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Everyday Evangelists: Sidney soup kitchen nourishes local residents

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

By Mary Caffrey Knapke

SIDNEY DEANERY — One recent morning, a woman knocked on the door of the Holy Angels Soup Kitchen before opening time. Director Pat Luthman squinted, peering across the room.
“Oh! I know who she is,” she said. “She’s bringing lasagna. Good! Now I don’t have to worry. That’s what we’ll have on Monday.”

Donations like this one — from the Ladies’ Sodality at Immaculate Conception Church in Botkins — are just one way the soup kitchen continues to provide hot meals to people in and around Sidney. Housed at the Alpha Community Center, the soup kitchen is open every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and serves more than 14,000 meals annually.

Holy Angels Soup Kitchen
Pat Luthman, far left, with Hardin-Houston Boy Scout Troop 239 and other volunteers at the Holy Angels Soup Kitchen in Sidney. (CT/Mary Caffrey Knapke)

Luthman has been the soup kitchen’s director since its inception in 1999. Previously, she worked at Hobart Brothers; after taking early retirement, a part-time job at Walmart became a full-time position. Reading the church bulletin one weekend, she noticed an ad for director of a new soup kitchen affiliated with the parish. With encouragement from her daughters, Luthman applied for the position.
Once hired, Luthman joined a team from the parish and community to set the plans for the soup kitchen in motion. Directors of other area community organizations and soup kitchens offered advice and guidance. Father Jack Bensman, pastor of Holy Angels at the time, encouraged her to take her time in getting prepared.
“But I asked around and I had school menus and stuff, and I knew what I liked to eat. So I told him, ‘Two weeks, we’ll have it open.’”

Luthman stayed true to her word. “We had 95 [people] the first day. I had ham, green beans and potatoes, because I thought that was easy to do.”

Volunteers came and helped her serve. She doesn’t recall how she got the word out that the soup kitchen was open or how she recruited people to help that first day. But they’ve been serving meals three times a week ever since. The Alpha Community Center also provides meals to the community on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
In the past, Luthman occasionally fixed meals for local weddings, honing her talents at shopping around and keeping an eye out for bargains. Now she’s an expert at creating a balanced meal with food from a variety of sources. Local restaurants and businesses donate leftovers, while the Western Ohio Food Bank in Lima provides staples such as powdered milk, peanut butter and eggs.
“I create; I add more; I go out and buy to make more. If we have extra, I freeze it,” she said. She likes to keep stocked up on eggs, because “we do eat a dozen eggs at a clip,” Luthman said. She also likes to keep canned chicken noodle soup on hand, but typically, volunteers make soup from scratch. One local woman — “the cake lady,” Luthman calls her — makes all the desserts.
When the kitchen was still in its planning stages, six area residents donated seed money to start the operation. “They said any time we ever needed any more money to let them know and they would be there to help me. But I’ve always managed,” Luthman said, adding that she never had to return to the original donors to stay afloat.
The soup kitchen also receives financial assistance from organizations such as Cargill Cares of Sidney, the Community Foundation of Shelby County and United Way, as well as private donations. Youth groups, local Catholic parishes and other area churches regularly donate food or money. Area residents also contribute; as one example, the “Minster Ladies,” a group of volunteers who work weekly throughout the year, hold a garage sale every summer and donate the proceeds.

Luthman said the soup kitchen enjoys an abundance of volunteer help. One day, Luthman called a volunteer to let her know she didn’t need to come in, because there were already enough helpers. “She said, ‘Well, I’m coming anyway. I live right down the street,’” Luthman recalls. “So she’s here every Friday. The volunteers know what they’re doing. They’re all good.”
The help has been especially appreciated during the past year, as there has been a surge in the number of patrons at the soup kitchen. Between 80 and 120 meals are served each day that the kitchen is open; in April, a total of 1,220 meals were served.
“I have a lot of people now who are out of work coming in — new faces. One day, we had 115 [people] and just enough food. A couple of times we ran out of food, so I went out and got peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and canned fruit. Or I might heat up some ravioli,” Luthman said. “I don’t want anybody going out of here hungry.”

Mary Caffrey Knapke can be reached at [email protected].


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