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 | By Joey Reistroffer

Soup Kitchen ‘Angels’: When Volunteer Spirit Meets Ever-increasing Need

“Hunger never takes a holiday,” Lou Sartor said recently as she watched volunteers scramble to prepare meals for 350-400 folks on a Thursday morning. She’s the director of the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen and somehow they get it done every day.

On this Thursday, volunteers from St. Paul the Apostle and Jesus Our Risen Savior churches, plus other area parishes, were mixing up a meal of fried chicken, rice and gravy, green beans, a biscuit and iced tea.

At 11:30 a.m. sharp, lunch was steaming hot and ready to go.

“A plate will have protein of some sort — steak, chicken, ham, turkey — white rice, white gravy, a vegetable, bread and a salad,” said Blas Miyares, parishioner at St. Paul. 

With his can-do ways and inspiration, he spearheads the Thursday lunch bunch. Miyares never misses a Thursday. Neither do the others.

Meet the team

Jeannie Dietz, also from St. Paul, cannot fathom skipping a day.

“I feel blessed,” she said of her Thursday morning volunteer work, blessed by friendships, camaraderie and, most of all, by the opportunity to serve.

Dietz is 90. She has been volunteering since 2006 and “making the salads since COVID.” She is an inspiration to everyone who puts on an apron in this kitchen.

“Jeannie’s been here so long that even with her mask on, they can tell she’s smiling at them when she serves,” according to Therese DeMars, another volunteer from St. Paul.

Dietz has plenty of friends joining her from the parish, including Tom Murray, Sue Klatte, Mike Stokes and Jill Murphy. Dan Akert from Jesus Our Risen Savior also is part of this team that answers God’s call to feed the hungry.

“It’s the most important part of the week for us,” Murray said.

Their get-to-work ethic amazes Sartor. Their spirit inspires, and she smiles every time she sees them gather in a circle of prayer right before dishing up hot plates of food.

Prayer always

Miyares leads these friends with prayer intentions and the Our Father before they line up to serve a cafeteria-style lunch.

“They pray, and they lift up people who need prayers. They are praying for everybody,” Sartor said. “Angels are flying in here,” she added as she watched the plates being filled.

“Some of those people come through more than once,” Miyares said. “You know that person is a homeless person.”

Some are addicted, others have mental health issues and still others have suffered unbelievable things in life.

“I’ve seen people having conversations with themselves,” he said. “I don’t know if there is a fix for that. I just keep serving. You always want to be there. If you can interact with them, that’s all you can do.”

Plus pray, and many of those prayers have come to fruition. Volunteers said it's amazing how the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen always has just enough. Miyares said the community and the businesses are very generous.

Walmart, Costco, Food Lion, Aldi’s and many others reach out to donate food to the outreach. Morrison’s cafe at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center offers supplies five days a week, while Wade’s Restaurant pitches in with food six days a week, Sartor noted, and they also make pick-ups from Little Caesars.

More than food

The Spartanburg Soup Kitchen also offers donated clothing.

“There is a critical need for men’s pants, underwear and socks,” Miyares said, and Sartor added that’s also true for women’s clothing items.

“Someone donated blankets, and they were snapped right up,” she said.

When summer approaches, bottled water becomes critical.

More people arrive dehydrated, Sartor said, and that it gets “worse as the weather gets warmer. And once school is out, that changes the whole dynamic of what our needs are. We will have families coming every day with their small children.”

The soup kitchen offers a children’s empowerment program every Friday during the summer. Sartor said children arrive by 7:30 a.m., get a good breakfast and then focus on exercise. Teachers are available to assist, and this year marked the 10th summer the program was offered.

Supply and demand

The local needs intensified at the end of April when the Spartanburg Opportunity Center, a homeless shelter, shut down. People began showing up at the soup kitchen earlier and earlier. They had nowhere else to go.

“We saw two men sleeping in the grass across the street when we left at 4:30. They were still there in the morning,” she said. One woman “said that she found a place underneath an abandoned house.”

Sartor said they also give out personal supplies as they’re able.

“We try to share soap, toothpaste and diaper wipes. Who ever thought that diaper wipes would be so important? We provide that so people can take a sponge bath,” she said.

Those who volunteer try to bring a ray of light to the dark problem of homelessness, and occasionally that light brings a smile.

“On Mother’s Day, someone donated $450 worth of roses,” Sartor said. “She wanted to make sure that every mother had a rose. Just to see a mother smile as she received a rose, I will never forget that.”

It was another gift meant to ease the burden of hunger that never takes a holiday.