The history of soup kitchens in America can be traced back to the effects of the depression. Since its humble beginning soup kitchens have spread across the nation, locating the areas of greatest need. Our very own city of Greenville has several soup kitchens and pantries, all working hard to provide free meals for the hungry.
This summer as a Shi Center Fellow I’ve had the opportunity to work with Project Host, a non-profit organization in Greenville that began as a soup kitchen. Every day they provide a clean, safe, uplifting place for guests in need of fellowship and food. Anyone can walk in through the door and be welcomed—no questions, no paperwork, and no fear of rejection or embarrassment.
However, Project Host is more than just a soup kitchen.
Their mission is to use “food as a tool to feed the hungry and train the unemployed.” Rather than just serving meals, they are aware that in doing so they are sustaining the community. They’ve expanded to include a culinary school that teaches the unemployed culinary skills, preparing them to work in a restaurant. This reminds me of the proverb that reads, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Essentially, the culinary school is giving these people the tools they need to sustain themselves.
What’s even more interesting is that over the summer, the meals prepared by the students in the culinary school are sent out to feeding programs that can feed up to 500 kids. They are taking part in helping their own community!
Maybe you’ve heard of the term social sustainability? As a health science major interested in sustainability, this wasn’t a concept that I regularly thought about. However, it has been coming up recently in my conversations at Project Host, and I’m beginning to see that advocating sustainability doesn’t just involve environmental concepts, but it deals with people and the future of societies on this earth!
Project Host is unique in that at its core it is a very sustainable organization. In nourishing its community, it is encouraging a healthier future society. In addition, their kitchens accept food that otherwise would have been wasted. This food comes from donations or from Loaves and Fishes, an organization that delivers extra food from groceries and restaurants to soup kitchens. Project Host even has their own garden, that sends all of their produce into the kitchens! I’ve begun to see all the different ways one organization can advocate sustainability.
As part of my obligations as a Shi Center Fellow, I’ve had to create a documentary of the organization I’m interning at. During this process I’ve interviewed not only the staff and volunteers, but also the guests who come in and eat at the soup kitchen. I want to share with you some of the feedback I have received to give you a glimpse into the impact this organization has had on our community.
“I’m a homeless person right now, and I still have a smile on my face. I come down here to Project Host and the people here inspire me to keep my head up regardless of what I go through. In my mess these people have welcomed me, I love coming here. I’m so thankful for the people that come here and feed us.” –Barbara M.
“It’s the most important thing in this town, the soup kitchen!” –Floyd M.
“This soup kitchen has heart, soul, they care. We love being here and coming here. We talk to people and they talk to us, and we might not ever see such kindness on the streets.” –Cherokee
Working at Project Host has impacted me deeply, I have a new perspective on what it means to serve our community. Hearing people say that it has impacted their lives has taught me that even though at surface level it seems like we are just feeding people, we’re actually giving them hope. Hope to hold that will last to tomorrow and affect their future and the future of society.