Somehow, they make supper happen six days a week at Grand Valley Catholic Outreach’s Soup Kitchen.
Volunteers arrive and aren’t quite sure what they’ll have to work with, some days, but one thing is for certain. They’re making a difference today, together, and bellies will be filled with good food.
This is the soup kitchen that never serves soup, and somehow it always works out.
This spread is always a full meal, complete with a main dish, salad and dessert, and the volunteers who work here take pride in making delicious, nutritious meals for those who need a little help.
There are no tickets. There are no questions. There are only hungry people and the people who want to do something to help.
Elsie and Bill Cordova have been volunteering here for about 18 years, and they enjoy the sense of purpose they get from helping others.
When the Cordovas started volunteering at the soup kitchen after Bill retired, they thought having 75 people for lunch was a big crowd. Now, it’s more like 250 to 300 people, some of them regulars, but others who are just struggling to make ends meet and make it through the month.
The Cordovas are 85 years old, and they still come at least once a week, because it’s good for themselves and for others.
“Our doctor said the best thing for us to do is keep volunteering,” he said.
“That’s what keeps us going,” she said.
Many of the weekday volunteers are in their 80s and older, like the Cordovas.
“If I can help someone and my health is excellent, why not?” said George Gromke, 87, who has volunteered twice a week for the past three years.
Kathy Chaloupka, 68, has been volunteering for more than eight years, after she decided to try it out because it was something she always wanted to do.
“What I found was a great group of people,” she said. “It’s about a sense of service. This is so easy and pleasant to do for others.”
What Chaloupka found at the soup kitchen was a niche where her talents are valued and appreciated by the guests, her fellow volunteers and the organization. That sense of belonging and knowing she’s making a difference for the poor in the community is what keeps her and many others coming back.
“There are a lot of working poor,” Chaloupka said. The number of guests increases at the end of the month, as folks run out of money. If it’s a holiday week when schools are out, they see families come through the line.
On Mondays, there are three retired educators who are part of the team that comes once a week, including Chaloupka, a former chemistry teacher. Nancy Fehrmann used to work with Chaloupka before they retired, and she decided to try volunteering and found she liked learning to cook for 300 instead of for one. Terri Wenzlaff volunteered to wash dishes one Christmas and kept returning.
One of the most amazing things Wenzlaff has found in volunteering is the serendipity of the kitchen. “Whatever we’re making, whatever we need, it comes through the back door,” she said.
Angela Walsh, Catholic Outreach’s soup kitchen director, has relied on faith, volunteers and donations to keep things going here over the years. Walsh counts on food from local grocery stores, businesses, churches and individuals to make the meals possible, as well as the approximately 250 volunteers who help out.
Some of them come once a week, like the Monday crew, while others arrive on a drop-in basis. She knows that when she most needs people, they’ll show up, just like everything else does at the back door.
On one occasion, she had a group of volunteers who liked to use bacon in a particular dish. But the freezer was empty of bacon, and Walsh informed the volunteers that the budget for the month was already exhausted.
Then a man arrived at the back door. He was holding a single package of bacon, and said he just didn’t want it to go to waste so he brought it to them.
Somehow, it always works out.
Catholic Outreach is accepting donations and volunteers. Anyone interested in more information may call 241-3658 or visit catholicoutreach.org.