Kershaw County’s Food for the Soul is often deemed a soup kitchen, but Director Darlene Thomas maintains it is more than that.
Food for the Soul is known for offering breakfast and lunches Tuesday through Friday. It only operates on those days because when it first started in 2010, staff learned Mt. Moriah Baptist Church did lunches on Mondays and Saturdays. Food for the Soul saw the good in it, left it alone, and operates Tuesday through Friday instead, Thomas said.
Thomas has been the director of Food for the Soul for one year. Food for the Soul defines those in need as individuals who are going through rough times.
Food for the Soul never used to be a shelter; the organization would pay money for a few families to stay at a motel for a few days or house people when the temperature reached 36 degrees or below, but now they offer more, Thomas said.
Since August 1, 2016 they have done more than just supply food to those who needed it, Thomas said. They offer housing services with seven bunk beds -- 14 beds total -- and a few foldable cots. Food for the Soul do the laundry for those who sleep there at night and provide breakfast, lunch and dinner to them, Thomas noted.
“This is a place where people can come when they are chronically homeless,” Thomas said. “Maybe they’re living in a home without electricity, running water, and it gives them a place to come during the hot summer days and cold winter. Those living on the streets can come and shower. They get hygiene bags, shower shoes, towels, soap and wash cloths.”
Thomas explained that these beds give the clients a sense of belonging. The clients are responsible for making their beds. There are drawers on the bunk beds, so whatever they are carrying around on them at the time can fit into the drawers. She believes it makes clients feel like they have their own room.
Thomas said she remembers one man on his first night at the shelter. He made up the bed so perfectly, she said. He made it look nice, and when he placed his head on the pillow, she noticed he looked at peace and he truly appreciated the bed, she said.
“We have had veterans and disabled persons come through,” Thomas said. “People living in tents, dilapidated or abandoned buildings come here as well.”
Thomas said since the shelter opened in August, 176 people stayed in August (an average of nine people stayed a night), and 281 (an average of 16 people a night) stayed in September. Thomas said in September, 1,699 meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) were served for those staying in the shelter.
How are they able to keep the place functioning, one might ask?
A $20,000 Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant helped open the shelter, but it takes more than that to operate the shelter, Thomas noted. They need food to feed people, pay for utilities, and Thomas has to pay the crew that watches over the shelter at night and during the day. A $35,000 donation from First Franklin Financial has helped significantly, as well as donations from the community, Thomas said.
Food for the Soul partners with other agencies like SC Vocational Rehabilitation, Midlands Women's Center and Goodwill. This includes, finding jobs with the help of Vocational Rehab, single women receiving help from Midlands women Center and Goodwill helping with teaching about financial planning.
Food for the Soul has a liaison with the school system so childrens’ educations are not deferred. They also help people find permanent housing, Thomas said.
Food for the Soul also provides nutrition classes to those who need help with keeping groceries at their house, she said.
“We work with DHEC and the Department of Nutrition,” Thomas said. “They come and teach families or moms how to cook nutritious meals on a low income budget.”
Thomas said it is a six week class. Each week participants in the class learn how to cook one nutritious meal. They are then sent home with free groceries to practice cooking that meal so their family can eat.
“Because they get free groceries each week, that is six weeks of free groceries for one family,” Thomas said.
During those six weeks, participants take a field trip to a grocery store and learn how to shop for nutritious meals on a budget. After the six weeks, the participants receive a certificate of completion, a free recipe book and gifts.
“If we work together as a community, we certainly won’t solve the problem, but we can take a good bite out of it,” Thomas said.
Thomas worked with the homeless population in New York. She said between New York and Kershaw County, the homeless have similar stories, homelessness is a large issue in the two locations, and it makes her ask, “how can I help?’
There is another goal Thomas has for the shelter and the community.
“I want the community to come for lunch and fellowship,” Thomas said. “Break bread with those here at the shelter. I want the community to realize that these are our neighbors, people we go to church with. They’re no different from us.”
On days when there is food left over, anybody can come and take some of it home. She explained if someone is a veteran with barely any food at home come in. If a college student needs groceries, come on in. If you are a single parent, come on in.
“I thank the community for giving us the capability to do this,” Thomas said. “We couldn’t open these doors without you. We’re hoping to open up the doors seven days a week.”