St. Martin de Porres soup kitchen cooks up plans to expand



COLUMBIA — Even with 20-year-old kitchen equipment, the hands of a loving cook cannot be tied; he or she can always create something good to eat. Such is the case with the volunteers who work at St. Martin de Porres Soup Kitchen. Rain or shine they come Sunday to provide a hardy meal for their neighbors in need.

Charlotte House, Geraldine Allen and other cooks have established a reputation for delicious homemade soup. For Charlotte, she always brings to the kitchen the same soup she lovingly prepared for her own family. In addition to serving soup in a cup, volunteers come Sunday around 4 p.m. to make simple bologna and cheese sandwiches with some vanilla wafers for dessert and place the food in brown bags for pick-up. Although dinner is usually not served until 6 p.m., hungry folks start to line up as early as 4:30 p.m., as if they can smell the soup from miles away.

While stirring the large pot of frozen soup she brought from home, Charlotte recalls something her mother told her about feeding the poor. “Don’t ever give them something you would not eat.” Charlotte and all the others who prepare food for the kitchen live by that rule which is probably why they get a sizable crowd even though there is presently no place for the guests to sit down. In the summer, the kitchen can bring in as many as 100 people, if the weather is nice and they can eat outside.

Franciscan Father Steve Pavignano, parish administrator for St. Martin de Porres Church, hopes to change the current set-up to better accommodate their guests with the help of Rhode Island philanthropist Alan Shawn Feinstein who is offering up to $1 million to non-profit, anti-hunger agencies throughout the country, like the soup kitchen at St. Martin de Porres. Feinstein will divide his $1 million among all those agencies based on matching funds that the groups raises from March 1, 2001, to April 30, 2001. Father Pavignano has begun a campaign, asking friends, churches and anyone else who might contribute to this worthy cause. With the money, the church and school can purchase the essentials for a sit-down meal.

“Right now the guests come to the office door for their food; there is greater dignity in being about to sit at a table and eat. The guests will also be able to talk to the volunteers,” said Father Pavignano, who believes everyone benefits from the one-on-one conversations.

Presently parishioners Patricia Washington and Geraldine Douglas coordinate the soup kitchen, overseeing the supplies and arranging the groups of volunteers who help each week. Beside the financial needs for the upgrading of the kitchen’s service, there will also be a need for more volunteers to set-up, clean up, cook and serve the guest. The parish would like to see the school cafeteria converted into a simple but inviting dinner area with the simple inexpensive extras that make a place feel like home.

Once they have established a sit-down dining facility at St. Martin’s, Father Pavignano plans to offer occasional programs like medical screening, entertainment or lectures designed to fulfill the needs of the people served. “We want to make sure we provide what they want, not what we want for them,” he said.

St. Martin de Porres soup kitchen has been serving the area poor for almost 15 years, starting with just a few women cooking a little extra for the hungry in the community. With a chance of matching donations, St. Martin’s can do more that just provide a meal; it can provide the opportunity for volunteers and guests to come a little closer to Christ.

If you are interested in making a donation, contact the church at (803) 254-6862. The deadline for donations is noon on April 30, 2001. It is an opportunity to make your gift count twice. Feinstein believes that “Helping to better the lives of others, regardless of race, creed or color, is the greatest of all achievements.”