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Evanston soup kitchen volunteers feed those in need

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The homeless, the hungry and, for many, the nameless, know to line up at 11:30 a.m. each Tuesday near the side alley door at Evanston Second Baptist Church, 1717 Benson Ave.

What awaits them is a hot meal and a place to sit downstairs in the Dr. Hycel B. Taylor Fellowship Hall.

Food is typically prepared for about 100 guests weekly. On Jan. 7, with record-setting, sub-zero wind chills in the air, the doors opened sooner than usual.

It was just too cold to expect folks to wait outside.

Upstairs in the kitchen, busy hands were happy to help. Staff rinsed cans for collection by metal scrap haulers, and a tall, commercial stockpot of rice and beans began to boil.

Skokie Temple Beth Israel volunteers arrived for their customary staffing and support.

A pantry near the Second Baptist Church kitchen stove still featured a leaflet from Aug. 31, 2007. The program reads, “Eighteenth Anniversary Soup Kitchen Shabbat ... celebrating the Partnership of Temple Beth Israel and Second Baptist Church and honoring our volunteers.”

Fast forward to 2014, and temple volunteers were here to ring in the New Year.

“Everybody needs to pitch in and help the people that are in need any way they can,” said Michael Passman, a regular soup kitchen volunteer from the temple at 3601 W. Dempster St. “It’s nice to pitch in. If you can support your local food pantry or the Chicago Food Depository or your local kitchen with contributions, that’s a good idea.”

Also a regular in the Second Baptist Church kitchen is Al Davis, soup kitchen coordinator. The a 1976 Evanston Township High School graduate picks up donations at Aunt Millie’s Bread Bakery in Des Plaines, where he now lives. Carson’s Ribs of Deerfield donates chicken and pork.

“That hot meal is one that will keep them warm and provide them with strength to help them continue with their day,” said Davis, who spoke while checking on pans of baked pork chops.

“The cold weather is very cold out there,” Davis said, standing near a tall, paned window that collected steam from the large sink near the stove top. “It’s not a good day to be out, but there are people who need food in their system to keep going.”

Beyond the generosity of the holidays, need is perpetual, said Margaret Walker, of Evanston, who is a Second Baptist Church deacon, and is fondly known as the “Original Soup Kitchen Lady” with more than two decades of service.

“It seems like it was just yesterday,” Walker said, looking back on her history here while moving a pan to melt a stick of butter.

The menu on Jan. 7 included barbecue baked pork chops, rice and beans, peaches and spaghetti.

“Serving others is quite rewarding,” Walker said. She enjoys seeing families who come here to dine together for a hot meal.

“We try to provide that for them,” said Walker, who treats “them like a family member.

“We don’t frown on people who are down and out because it could be us.”

Virginia Griffin, a 1938 Evanston Township High School graduate, has lived in Evanston, “all my life, 92 years.”

“I really enjoy the people here,” said Griffin, a volunteer. “Over time you get to know them, their personalities.

“They need nourishment, day in and day out. They can’t afford to eat three meals a day maybe. It is very, very cold. It worries me about people that are in need that don’t have a place to lay your head, especially in this cold weather. I am glad we have this place here, where they can come and enjoy a warm meal.”

Davis echoed similar sentiments.

“We’re all just a dollar away from being homeless. We’re all just a paycheck away,” he said, hoping people will contact him with food donations.

Donations of fruits and vegetables help offset the need to purchase those items so volunteers can focus on other supplies to stock the soup kitchen pantry.

“I would like to thank God most of all for being able to provide us with the opportunity to do this, and the people who come here and help out; Margaret Walker and my other staff, and [Skokie Temple Beth Israel] and the community who help out,” Davis said.

At the Jan. 7 meal, a woman named Barbara offered the mealtime prayer. It is customary that a guest steps to the front of the dining room to offer words of gratitude. First with clasped hands, Barbara then lifted her arms.

“Father, God, I come to you today in the name of Lord Jesus Christ to give you all the praise,” said Barbara, in her opening words of grace. “We ask you to bless the hands that prepared this meal …”

Davis welcomes inquiries to assist the Second Baptist Church soup kitchen at asdavis.1@sbcglobal.net.

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