Community Soup Bowl combats hunger in Tuscaloosa
The organization has opened its doors to area residents for three decades, serving hot meals to people in need.
By Tanner Ary
One in five Alabamians do not have enough food to eat each day.
That means every day, thousands of people in the state are not sure where their next meal will come from, or if they will have food at all.
To combat this issue in Tuscaloosa, the staff of the Community Soup Bowl works to ensure its doors are open seven days a week to serve a hot lunch to anyone who is hungry or without food.
With the help of four volunteers per day and groups of 10 on the weekends, the Community Soup Bowl is able to provide over 200 hot meals everyday between 11 a.m. and 12:50 p.m. Each meal costs around $2.43 to make and is paid for through donations from the founding churches, area businesses and generous individuals.
The staff also works to guarantee that each meal is healthy so that the people being fed receive the essential nutrients needed to get them through the day.
“I am a dietitian, so my goal here is to not only minister to these people, but also give them a hot nutritious lunch,” said Amy Grinstead, executive director of the Community Soup Bowl. “This goal helps to improve the health, as well as the quality of life of the people we feed everyday because for some, this is the only nutrient rich meal they will receive until we see them the next day.”
While the priority of the Soup Bowl is to provide meals for those in need, the ministry is able to provide more for the people it serves.
“The food is what attracts so many people and what brings them through our doors everyday, but we are a mission,” Grinstead said. “We want to work just as hard to show these people the grace that God has for them, and that they are not stuck in the situation that they have found themselves in.”
Because of this fact, the Soup Bowl has become a sort of home away from home for patrons who come in on a daily basis. Some have even been frequenting the lunch hour for many years.
“We have many people who have been coming since the beginning that have become regulars around here,” Grinstead said. “They come in almost every day with a huge smile on their face. We are always excited to see them because they are almost like extended family.”
The Soup Bowl has proven to have a large and lasting impact on all who attend to cure their hunger, but the impact does not stop at that. It extends to those who choose to work there as well.
“Working at the Soup Bowl has had a lasting effect on me as a person and how I view life in general really,” said Kash Ellison, a volunteer. “I get to meet different people from all different backgrounds and walks of life, and I make myself step into their shoes for a moment and try to understand what life is like in their eyes.”
For Ellison, the joy found in this work comes from being able to make a difference in the lives of people each time he prepares and serves food at the Soup Bowl.
“It’s tough for many of the people that come through these doors,” Ellison said. “Many are in really dark situations in their lives and I get so much joy out of being able to shed a little light on their life for an hour a day in the form of a hot meal.”
Although the Soup Bowl has been opening its doors daily for over 30 years, the work in Tuscaloosa is far from over in the eyes of the staff.
“I am here to serve mankind and do my part in improving the lives of the people that decide to walk through these doors,” said Laurice McCollum, weekend director. “This is by far one of the best organizations that I have ever been a part of, and I look forward to continuing to serve the people of this city the best that I can.”
While McCollum’s main focus is ensuring that meals are prepared for the people, she also puts a high priority on being a positive influence as well.
“The first priority is always going to be making sure that no one leaves with their stomach growling,” McCollum said. “But I also want to make sure I am an encourager as well. Encouragement gives these people the hope they need to get through the day and sometimes that is even more beneficial than the meal.”
The Community Soup Bowl strives to be a lighthouse that offers food and hope to all who attend each day. To do so, volunteers and monetary donations are always welcomed.
“We are always looking for groups who wish to make a difference in their community,” McCollum said. “We have openings for help all the time and we are so appreciative to each person who decides to come give us a hand.”
To volunteer or donate, you can contact Amy or Laurice at (205) 752-2421 or contact them through their email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This is a ministry that we hope can help our community thrive for years to come,” McCollum said. “Food and money are low sometimes, but we have been winging it for 32 years, and we hope to continue winging it for 32 more.”