“Everyone who walks through the door gets fed,” said Matt Koehler, who was volunteering this week at the Meadville Community Soup Kitchen with a group of fellow retired U.S. Marines.
Making sure that statement stands is getting harder and harder for the nonprofit organization housed in Stone United Methodist Church on Diamond Park. The Soup Kitchen, which offers the only free each weekday, no-questions-asked meal for Crawford County’s needy, is itself in need. In fact, the situation has deteriorated to the point that the Soup Kitchen’s only paid employee, coordinator Bev Nutter, has issued a public plea for cold, hard cash.
While food supplies are supplemented by periodic donations of items like baked goods from Giant Eagle and other businesses, Nutter makes $6,000 to $7,000 food orders about four times a year.
“This time I’m going to have to make another order,” she said. “The cost of food has gone up and we’re feeding more people.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most common measure of food prices — the all food Consumer Price Index — shows prices increased by about 1.3 percent between October 2012 and October 2013, the most recent month for which numbers were available. That’s only a small part of the story, however. Since 2006, the index has risen almost 20 percent. Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Economic Research Service show price inflation for food outpacing other spending categories, including transportation, medical care and apparel, over the past several years.
On top of those trends, Nutter says there are more mouths to feed.
A year ago, the Soup Kitchen averaged about 65 people a day. That number ranges between 85 and 100 now, she said.
Aside from the yearly Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, the kitchen’s crowd size can vary depending on the weather and season.
“We served about 170 for Thanksgiving,” Nutter said. “The Christmas dinner is this Thursday (today). We set the tables like a restaurant and serve the people.”
Additionally, the kitchen tries to supply everyone with some sort of holiday favor, like a bag of candy.
In terms of yearly operations, Nutter estimated costs of about $65,000 to $75,000 to keep the Soup Kitchen open, including the food budget, building usage, insurance costs and more. The nonprofit operation does not receive any state or federal funding and always buys its food locally in order to keep the donations it receives helping the community.
Fortunately, finding the free help needed to prepare, serve and clean up the meals has not been as difficult a task as finding increased funding, thanks in part to volunteers like Koehler and his fellow veterans with the Aurel Bachiak Detachment 446 of the Marine Corps League.
They volunteer at the soup kitchen just about every week — one of the many ways they get their hands back into service, according to Jack Hardenburg, detachment commandant.
One day this week they were busy cooking beef stew to serve over biscuits.
“We signed up to volunteer every other Tuesday,” Koehler said. “If anyone wants to join us, they’re more than welcome.”
Other groups such as regulars from the ARC of Crawford County, Allegheny College and other area businesses and civic groups pitch in as well.
“They’re a good working crew,” Nutter said of the retired Marines. “All my crews are. They do a great job.”
Now, if the community would step forward with a little extra financial backing, Nutter and her crews could focus solely on what they do best.
“Just eat,” she said. “That’s what we’re about, feeding the hungry.”
You can help
Monetary donations can be mailed to or dropped off at the nonprofit Meadville Community Soup Kitchen, 956 S. Main St. The kitchen is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding holidays.
- More information: Call 337-1233.
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.