Soup kitchen celebrates 16th year

The Community Soup Kitchen at the Huntingdon Presbyterian Church will celebrate its 16th anniversary with a brief ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the lower level fellowship hall of the Huntingdon Presbyterian Church. During the ceremony, past directors, including Jane Brown, Deb Hetrick, Marshall Showalter and Sue Docherty, will be recognized for their selfless efforts to make the soup kitchen successful.

The idea for a soup kitchen/free meal originated as an outreach of the church and outreach committee in winter 2003 after reading an article written by the local coordinator of human services stating that there were many people in the town who were hungry.

After much discussion, the committee decided to move forward with starting a local soup kitchen following a model of a successful similar venture at a larger church in Ohio. The soup kitchen was started as a once-a-month free meal.

The first meal — lasagna — was served on April 24, 2003, with food donated and supplemented by contributors. It was later decided to expand the meal offering to every other Thursday, which was a stretch financially.

A $1,500 grant was received from the Huntingdon Presbytery to assist in the venture, and the soup kitchen successfully applied for a monthly supply of non-perishable foodstuff from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The supply is still being received.

The soup kitchen further expanded to serve a meal once a week and became a joint outreach venture of the Huntingdon Presbyterian Church, the Huntingdon Area Forum of Churches and the Huntingdon Presbytery. Today, 10 churches participate in the outreach.

The co-directors of the soup kitchen are Michele Rupert of the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church and Amy Yocum of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church. The outreach has the capacity to seat 120 and regularly serves 80-100 people at 6 p.m. each Thursday. The outreach serves a full turkey dinner every Thanksgiving.

The soup kitchen is open to all people regardless of income. In addition to receiving a hot meal, guests are sent home with food items received from Walmart, the three local Sheetz stores and, when open, the Huntingdon Farmers’ Market. The Sheetz Corp. recently remodeled the kitchen and donated new appliances. Rupert and Yocum also direct the monthly Fresh Express program in which those meeting income requirements receive fresh produce and dairy items provided by the Central Pennsyl­vania Food Bank.

The outreach is primarily supported by donations from individuals, churches, businesses and organizations.