What began as a small, traditional soup kitchen in 2003 has become an efficient, interfaith meal-delivery ministry that provides hot meals to more than 300 disadvantaged Richmond Hill residents each week.
Food for the Soul is an outreach mission created by Richmond Hill United Methodist Church to combat hunger in South Bryan County.
Every Thursday, more than a dozen volunteers cook, package and deliver hundreds of meals throughout the community.
"We cater to those below standard income levels, to seniors who can't survive on Social Security alone, to people suffering from illness and to anyone who asks for our help," said Food for the Soul Chair Diana South.
Based on data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2009, roughly 11 percent of Richmond Hill residents live below the poverty line.
"It's a devastating and life-changing experience to see the people who live in this community and have so little," said volunteer Carol Benjamin. "We pass by houses every day and think, ‘Surely no one lives there. How could they?' But someone does. Because they have to."
During the holiday season, South said that she has noticed an increase in the number of people who request meals.
"We've seen an influx of people in the last two weeks," she said. "They're having to spend their money on gifts for their children, and it's especially hard to buy food."
The program is open to anyone in Richmond Hill who requests a meal.
"We don't ask questions," said co-Chair Mary Burns. "If someone asks for food, we'll give it."
One woman, who preferred to be referred to only as Louise, is grateful for the meal she receives each week. She lives with her two dogs and a cat in the small wooden home that she's resided in since 1943.
"Oh, I'm so happy they bring me the food," said Louise. "It helps me so much, so much. I thank them, am so thankful for them. Bless them."
In addition to RHUMC, Food for the Soul now includes five other churches: St. Anne Catholic Church; First Baptist Church of Richmond Hill; Richmond Hill Presbyterian Church; Bethel Baptist; and New Beginnings Community Church.
With so many willing volunteers and churches of different faiths, several religions are represented at Food for the Soul.
"It's a community thing," said volunteer Flo Knudsen, who is Jewish. "We have every faith."
Knudsen's fellow volunteer, Susan Frissora from First Baptist, agreed.
"Denomination means nothing," she said. "It's for anyone who needs help and anyone who wants to give it."
The six churches take turns planning and providing the main components of the meals. Food Lion, Publix and Baldinos Giant Jersey Subs also donate food.
Food for the Soul meets at 1 p.m. every Thursday at RHUMC and is always seeking new volunteers. The group also accepts both food and financial donations and is especially in need of pet food, as they also provide to pets.
For more information, contact the RHUMC office at 756-2190.