GREENFIELD — Five days a week, you can find Cheryl Murphy at the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen.
On some afternoons, she and her brother, Robert Nicholas, are frantically doing dishes in the back, trying to keep up with the noontime rush. On others, the pair are taking advantage of the free meals the soup kitchen has to offer.
Murphy and her brother are among those who wouldn’t be able to make ends meet without the help the soup kitchen provides – and that number is rising.
In recent weeks, the soup kitchen has seen a more-than 25 percent increase in the average daily number of people served. Couple that with the soup kitchen’s new take-home lunch program, and the influx of clients has left the pantry’s shelves in desperate need of replenishing.
“We’ve been recently way over 100 (people) a day,” said Judy Crist, assistant manager of the soup kitchen. “It’s extremely busy behind the scenes.”
Part of the chaos as of late has included reaching out to the soup kitchen’s many local partners to spread the word about what’s lacking in the supply department.
“We could not do this without the community
support,” Crist said.
The soup kitchen serves two meals a day, five days a week. Clients may pick up a take-home lunch on Fridays to eat over the weekend. About 75 people are taking advantage of that program each week.
And there’s no question they’re grateful for the extra meal, considering the soup kitchen is closed on Saturdays and Sundays, Crist said.
Murphy said seeing clients’ smiles makes volunteering at the soup kitchen worthwhile. She greets servers with that same smile when she’s on the receiving end of the food line. Murphy lost her job in 2010, and her brother works part time at a fast-food restaurant in town. Both receive Social Security checks, but it’s not enough to make ends meet. The soup kitchen helps to fill the gaps.
“It means a great deal,” Murphy said. “It helps a lot of people. I’m glad they opened it, because there’s a lot of people (who don’t) have any food.”
Many faces are ones the servers see every day, and some share their stories openly. Others make their way quietly through the line.
The soup kitchen has two paid staff members; the rest of the work is done by a small army of volunteers.
Those volunteers reach out to those who make their way to the serving line, trying to find out if their needs go beyond basic meals.
One client was homeless and sleeping on a friend’s couch. He asked for an alarm clock. One without a stove was provided a slow-cooker in order to heat meals at home.
The staff does its best to meet clients’ needs, Crist said, though it isn’t always easy when there’s an unexpected influx.
Volunteer Jeanette Wickard volunteers at the soup kitchen each week and said the staff never knows just how much to prepare.
“A lot of times, we’ll have close to 70, 80 people on Monday at noon,” Wickard said. “Most of the time, it’s just a steady flow. You know when they come back for seconds, they’re hungry.”
The vast majority of ingredients used to make meals at the soup kitchen come from donations. Basic hygiene items are also provided to clients as needed. The soup kitchen is currently in need of the following:
Cheese (Shredded or sliced)
Baggies (all sizes)