by Alice Matisz
Jeanette, Pauline and Rosella hard at work
Agnes stirs down a boiling soup
Jeanette creates a fruit salad masterpiece
Sharon sets a lively pace
Rosella chops faster than a speeding bullet
They wear aprons instead of capes, but the four teams of All Saints soup-kitchen volunteers definitely make our city a better place to live. Once a month, or once every two months, the teams prepare lunch for dozens. Some teams make soups and salads, some spaghetti with meat sauce. Each team sticks to their specialty, and serves it up with love, to folks who may only get one hot meal a day.
Over the past thirty years, August and Ann have seen client numbers swell from a couple of dozen to over 100 some days. Originally the couple made soup in the basement of St. Augustine’s Anglican Church. They then carried the pots across the road to the old courthouse. Nowadays, the soup kitchen is a spacious, modern building adjoining the Lethbridge Emergency Shelter on 8th Street and 2 ‘A’ Avenue North. On a recent visit to the kitchen, I watched one dedicated team wash, chop, stir and toss, in perfect harmony. While potatoes were peeled, brussel sprouts trimmed and cherries pitted, there was cheerful discussion among the women. They spoke of trips taken, grandchildren’s antics, memorable sermons, and reluctantly when asked, why they were there.
“I read all these (sad) stories, I knew I wanted to help when I retired,” Sharon said. “Then I saw it in the bulletin and thought I was meant to see this.”
“You get more than you put in,” Rosella said earnestly.
They all agreed that the camaraderie is a big part of the experience. This feeling was echoed by every group I spoke with.
“I enjoy it, there’s a great team,” Elizabeth said, “I’m often the first one in and the last one out!”
“Always a great bunch working there,” August said.
Eva said she likes meeting the clients. “Nice people, very polite, very appreciative. Occasionally one is rowdy but you don’t judge, you just feed them.”
Eva noted that there were more young people visiting the soup kitchen these days, and on occasion even parents with children. The majority of clients are single men, many from the shelter next door. Meal preparation is done six days a week, and virtually every church in Lethbridge takes a turn with the cooking. A calendar on the wall keeps track of who is working when. Team leaders handle sign-in and menu listings. Ingredients for the meals are donated by stores, farms, colonies and the general public. Everything is put into a walk-in cooler which is usually the first stop for team leaders at 9:00am.
The day I visited, Agnes and Jeanette sifted through boxes and trays, filling their arms with melons, apples, peppers and onions. Later, they pulled out some trays of desserts which were carefully checked before being added to the dessert choices. A small bucket of unidentifiable green food was thrown away.
“We don’t serve anything we wouldn’t eat at home,” Rosella cautions.
Vegetable scraps were saved for a farmer who feeds them to his animals. Cardboard and plastic was meticulously recycled. All utensils, and later the dishes, were cleaned in a large professional dishwasher. The entire operation ran like clockwork and was finished around 1:00pm.
Most of the prep work was completed by 11:30am when the team took a break. Finally the sous chefs could sample their culinary creations. At noon a crowd of guests filed in and the serving began.
Apparently some of the more-senior teams are in dire need of strong volunteers to lift full pots and pans. All the teams would welcome a few more hands to prepare and serve. Feeding the hungry is a biblical imperative, something Jesus specifically charged his disciples to do. However, it is not a chore. Like so much of our Christian ministry, the work is easy when shared, and the rewards are huge.
Ann offered, “We started because they needed help, but we enjoyed working there… and we still do (decades later).”
“It’s a fun day!” August concluded.
For more information on how you can become a Souper Hero, please call the Parish Office.