- Associated Press - Monday, December 14, 2015

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Barbara Taft doesn’t like to see people go hungry so she has dedicated 21 years of her life to feeding thousands of them.

The sign at JOY Soup Kitchen at 700 Albemarle Ave. reads “A meal and more,” and gospel music and sermons play on the small radio inside.

And, more than an hour before the kitchen was scheduled to open on Nov. 21 for its annual Thanksgiving meal, a line of people bundled in coats, hats and scarves, curled around the outside of the building. Inside, Taft and her veritable army of volunteers had been busy for hours already, packing individual Thanksgiving meals.

Turkey, ham, peas, beans, potatoes, gravy, macaroni and cheese, and many more dishes billowed steam that morning, enveloping the volunteers as they passed plates to receive a portion from each. Pies and cakes were stacked precariously in the refrigerator, waiting to be sliced. And Taft presided over it all with a watchful eye and a hand to help wherever needed.

Pastor Rodney Coles of the Churches Outreach Network said about 376 meals packed before doors opened on Nov. 21 were headed to senior citizens across the city as part of the Elderly Touch of Heart ministry, a program of the outreach network.



But even after the 376 senior meals were packed up into vans and out the door, Taft said she still expected to serve 1,800 to 2,000 meals to people throughout the day.

Taft founded the kitchen because she saw a need in the community.

“People came and were hungry and I wanted help,” she said.

And it wasn’t always the homeless, or those one might expect needed help.

“Many of them wouldn’t tell you they were hungry, but they still needed help,” Taft said. “Sometimes it’s just someone having a hard time.”

But no matter the reason, Taft and others found a calling and answered it.

“I knew we had to do something, so we started asking for donations,” she said.

Beginning in 1994, donations of food, funds and time came pouring in. “The public has been real good to me,” Taft said.

Now the kitchen typically feeds more than 100 people each day, including many children, Taft said.

When asked how many volunteers she typically has, Taft said she “can’t count.”

“We just put it in the paper, and then have people call us wanting to volunteer,” she said.

Sometimes Taft said she has so many people willing to volunteer, she has to turn some away.

“I don’t want to have too many people in here crowding around,” she said, indicating to the crowd packing turkey and vegetables into foam containers and passing them along to be packed in plastic bags headed to the van outside.

But even with so many hands on deck, it’s a lot of work to prepare so many meals for so many in need. For Taft and volunteers like Danita Pugh, it’s a calling.

“It’s the spirit of the Lord,” Pugh said while she scooped green peas into a container. “This is what he wanted me to do. And I love it.”

Pugh, who is one of Taft’s newer volunteers with one year of service so far, said the expressions on the faces of those she serves makes the work worth it.

“It really makes you feel good about it,” she said. “When we can help them and especially when we can do something a little special for the kids.”

For Taft, it comes back to one universal truth: No one should go hungry.

“We are so blessed to have so much in our lives,” she said. “We can’t let people go hungry when we can do something about it. No one should ever go hungry.”

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Information from: The Daily Reflector, https://www.reflector.com

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