Feeding a need: Volunteers donate time, restaurants donate leftovers at local soup kitchen

Morgan Taylor | Staff Photographer Tony Martinez, 60, (right) and Tom Swan, 46, (left) catch up over coffee at the soup kitchen in Mount Pleasant on Wednesday morning.

As a group of volunteer coordinators paced the kitchen, everyone had a job to do.

The morning shift at the Isabella Community Soup Kitchen, located on 621 S. Adams St., was filled with workers preparing the noon meal. By 11 a.m., a second shift of volunteers were ready to serve lunch, clad in aprons, hats and hairnets.

Elwell resident Tom Swan said he came in with his wife and invited some long-time-no-see friends to the dine with them at the kitchen. 

"This is one of the best places for senior citizens and people in need in Mount Pleasant to come and hang out," Swan said. "At my first visit here, I was expecting a lot of people walking around with canes, but that isn't the case."

Mount Pleasant resident Tony Martinez used to go to school with Swan. He said it was like a family reunion with the well-known faces in attendance.

One of those faces was Rita Erskin, Swan's sister-in-law.

"Most people come for coffee and its a great place to hang out with friends," Erskin said.

Stories and reasons for coming to the soup kitchen vary.

For volunteers, it might be a requirement for an organization at Central Michigan University or for court-ordered community service. Volunteer coordinators are the regulars who train each new volunteer.

Morning shift volunteers help bring in deliveries from different restaurants who donate their leftovers to the kitchen. A shout of "Delivery!" from the back door signals workers to help unload the vehicle.

A loaded delivery truck dropped off food and supplies from Lil' Chef, three days after the local restaurant closed down. Volunteers pitched in, despite the bitter cold, bringing in the supplies to be sorted.

Volunteer coordinator Lisa Lull totaled the weight of the load into a calculator.

Olive Garden donates leftover soups to the kitchen as well, however, Wednesday's soup was altered due to a lack of supplies. The soup became a mixture of soups donated from other restaurants.

A schedule determines the main meal of the day, which helps coordinators decide what to prepare. When there is a lack of supplies, the schedule is altered based on the coordinator's preferences and experience with known recipes.

The only full meal the soup kitchen serves is lunch, though it provides coffee and snacks for breakfast as well.

Second shift volunteers serve the lunch, allowing leftovers to be carried out in donated peanut butter jars and other donated containers.


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