BRISTOL, Va. — In times like these, everyone can use a serving of kindness and some nourishment for the soul.
In response to hardship resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bristol-based Soup Kitchen is pausing its daily soup delivery, and instead providing food boxes for existing clients during the months of June and July. One box provides each recipient with enough food for one meal per day for an entire month.
Located on the campus of the former Sullins College, the Soup Kitchen began serving approximately 50 people per weekday in 1998, and now serves 990 individuals. Despite its long-term operation and status as one of the largest free kitchens in the region, not many residents know the extent of its outreach.
“Lots of people say, ‘Oh, I’ve seen your van, but I don’t know what you do,’” says Michelle Booher, executive director of the Soup Kitchen. “When they find out how many people we serve, they’re surprised at the scope of need in the community.”
For more than two decades, the Soup Kitchen has prepared and delivered soup, crackers and milk five days a week, 52 weeks per year, to Bristol, Virginia, residents in need. Funded and operated by The United Company Foundation, the Soup Kitchen works in collaboration with area churches and volunteers to prepare and distribute the meals. The service was expanded earlier this year to include residents of Bristol, Tennessee, and currently provides meals for up to 1,000 individuals each weekday. On average, the service provides 200,000 meals per year.
“Our recipients include children, the elderly, adults who are out of work, and others who may not be covered by other area programs,” Booher says. “Folks rely on this service. It is such a worthwhile investment of our time, and it makes our hearts feel good to know we’re making a difference in our community.”
Booher says that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic made staff more aware of food preparation practices and also deepened the need in the community.
“We’ve always been careful about the way we prepare and deliver meals, and we’re being even more so now,” Booher says. “Fortunately, the way the food is packaged, it’s like getting takeout, and since some of our recipients are older and challenged in their mobility, having these meals brought to them during this time is an increasingly essential service.”
“For the soup distributions, we make everything from scratch with fresh ingredients every day,” says Peggy Littleton, executive director of The United Company Foundation. “We have 25 different meals we rotate through, with a different one each day. We also make lasagna, spaghetti and chili, along with vegetable, chicken noodle and potato soups, and numerous others — all healthy, hearty and filling.
“It’s a big program,” Littleton adds. “Along with our own employees, we rely on numerous volunteers from 12 different churches. Many of our volunteers have been with us a long time, they love what they are doing, and they are all so faithful and diligent. The church deliveries are made directly to the doors of the recipients, so the volunteers have gotten to know their contact person. After seeing them every day for years, they have become quite attached. Sometimes, the volunteers are the only people those folks talk to that day.”
The United Company Foundation is a regional nonprofit that has advocated for the care, education and edification of individuals throughout Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee since 1986. The foundation partners with a number of community organizations to support education, the care, feeding and clothing of children and adults, the flourishing of the arts, and the promotion of wellness throughout the region.
Boxes for Distribution: Food boxes staged at The Soup Kitchen await transfer to 12 area churches, where they will be distributed. One box provides each recipient with enough food for one meal per day for an entire month.
Loading Truck: Michelle Booher, left, executive director of the Soup Kitchen, and April Hayes help load a shipment of food boxes for June’s distribution.
About The United Company Foundation
Founded in 1986, The United Company Foundation seeks to provide assistance with food, shelter, clothing, education, youth programs, the arts, health and wellness, and to improve the quality of life for residents in the Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia, community and the surrounding area. The Foundation is a private, nonprofit entity providing grants to eligible 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations.