Twice a month since 2006, Billy Kelly prepares enough rice and chicken soup in the morning at the Society of St. Vincent DePaul soup kitchen to hand 200 cups of it to visitors looking for a hot meal. The retired military man despises the early alarm clock, but volunteering along with others offers tremendous satisfaction, he insists.
“I’ve never left here without being on the highest high,” he said.
The soup, along with an apple, chips, two sandwiches and other snacks are examples of food, plus lemonade or coffee in the dining room.
The Society of Vincent St. DePaul kitchen relocated into the existing building, formerly a Methodist church, in 2012, steps away from Methodist Hospital. It’s one of almost 272 Mid-South Food Bank Partner Agencies.
During one recent weekday serving, volunteers were treated to catfish and hush puppies that were donated from the Knights of Columbus. Becky VanDeren, who oversees the soup kitchen, said the combined support from a rotation of kitchen volunteers and from community donations is impressive.
St. Vincent DePaul Soup Kitchen opens its doors for people needing a meal and a warm smile each morning, every day of the year. Between 20 and 25 percent of the visitors are homeless, VanDeren estimated. The rest are people whose income levels are insufficient. Most are return visitors. Not all come strictly for a nutritious meal.
Some seniors enjoy the walk in order to exercise and receive fresh air – a respite from the streets. Roosevelt Sales, 60, started visiting several times a week for camaraderie beginning more than decade ago when the kitchen was at another site.
The Air Force veteran says without these visits he would be left isolated in his high-rise room. “People here are nice, the food is excellent and it offers a chance to socialize - to chit chat with others about what’s going on in the world,” he said.