Volunteers at Good Samaritan Ministries prepare a meal for other clients / Photo by Bethany Prange
A giddy toddler munches on cereal, delighted to fish the marshmallows out of his Lucky Charms.
To him, this is just a regular day in a place where he’s the center of attention.
Everyone showers him with attention, from his mother and the staff to the volunteers and residents of the Good Samaritan Ministries transitional housing program.
He is, after all, an undeniably cute kid.
And at age 1, he is also blissfully unaware of just how important this place really is.
This is a place where this little boy and the men and women at the table around him can count on three meals a day, seven days a week.
Here, at the Good Samaritan Ministries soup kitchen in Carbondale, Illinois, people in need gather for a meal and some companionship. This place is also home to a transitional housing residence and an emergency shelter.
Last month, the soup kitchen served almost 2,400 meals, says JoAnn Grammer, food service manager for Good Samaritan Ministries.
JoAnn oversees the soup kitchen and the food pantry operated by Good Samaritan. Both are agencies of the St. Louis Area Foodbank.
As is the case at most Foodbank agencies, JoAnn says both the soup kitchen and the food pantry report have seen an increase in clients in recent years. The pantry is now serving 515 families a month.
“When I first started, the pantry’s average was 35 people a day,” JoAnn says. “Now I do 50 to 80 people a day.”
Fortunately, JoAnn doesn’t have to take care of all those folks on her own.
She relies on her volunteers to help sort, repack and hand out food at the pantry, and to help prepare meals and clean up at the soup kitchen.
John Jones, a resident of Good Samaritan’s transitional housing program, has been volunteering at the soup kitchen and pantry for two years.
John, 47, says he volunteers his time because it is his way of returning the favor.
“They’ve always been nice to me. They’re good people and it’s fun to help out,” John says.
Dave Lochbihler, 58, is also a resident in the transitional housing unit. He volunteers at both the pantry and the soup kitchen, helping to sort, carry and put away the food.
But this self-taught cook is also the main chef on weekends at the soup kitchen. Over time, he’s gotten the knack for cooking for a big group. His Italian beef is a crowd favorite.
“They seem to enjoy it,” Dave says.
When asked why they volunteer their times, John and Dave agree it makes them feel good.
“I like to see the people’s smiles on their faces,” Dave says. “You give them something little and they appreciate it.”
John and Dave are both working to make better lives for themselves, and don’t mind helping others while they’re at it.
“I’ve bettered myself from where I was a few years ago,” Dave says. “I feel like for what they have given me, I’m putting it back into the program.”
The biggest turnout for meals in the soup kitchen is at dinner. And the later it gets in the month, the more people show up because they no longer have money for food.
Even when they get on their feet and are able to move out of Good Samaritan, both John and Dave say they plan to come back and volunteer.
“I’d come back on my own,” John says.
Bethany Prange is the communications coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank