HAMLET — With the help of $5,000 from the Seaboard Festival, Richmond County’s soup kitchen will be able to accommodate more than two volunteer cooks at a time.
And, maybe, buy a commercial-grade stove that will hold the large pots needed to cook and serve at least 60 meals each weekday.
“Our kitchen is so small and so antiquated, and we have a small stove that won’t hold our big pots,” said Carole Venable, chairman of the board of the Richmond County Mental Health Society, which sponsors the soup kitchen. “We’re butt to butt down here (during) washing and (meal) service.”
Seaboard President Kim Lindsey remembered Friday that “there’s been a four- or five-year discussion about that kitchen.”
When the opportunity arose to make a bigger-than-usual donation — the Seaboard disbursed no money to the community last year, so had funds in reserve, Lindsey said — the festival board voted unanimously to make it. The formal donation will be made Monday, during a Mental Health Society board meeting.
“Anything that feeds people just has so many outreaching effects,” Lindsey said. “I hope that they are able to parlay that money into grant money” or donations.
Venable said the money would be enough to let board member Ernie Eason put up Sheetrock and complete the construction work in a 12-by-18 foot former storeroom that will become the new kitchen. It also will be enough to put toward a stove, she said — but not to buy it outright.
For that, the society has a grant request in the works. The kind of stove the soup kitchen needs costs about $6,000, she said.
The soup kitchen’s location isn’t obvious, even though it welcomes 60 or so diners each weekday: It sits at the rear of a blank space next to The Grab, a secondhand store that finances the National Railroad Museum. A head-high white fence surrounds the entrance. A black-and-white sign announces the kitchen’s presence.
From noon to 1 p.m. each weekday, the homeless, elderly or down on their luck drop in to eat. Usually, the total is around 60, though that number swells by dozens during the summer, when children are home from school.
Some diners exhibit signs of mental illness, Venable said. Others appear to be what she euphemistically called “self-medicated.”
“We have to be prepared for some meltdowns,” she said. Recently, she added, one man couldn’t stop his manic laughter despite calls to desist.
The Mental Health Society won its charter in 1972, during the “community-based mental health” craze, which allowed it to mount several projects. But through the years, the society has found less and less help for the mentally ill, Venable said — and “now it’s come down to (the fact) this is the (only) program we are able to provide.”
Area churches rotate cooking and serving, as do community organizations. On Friday, servers came from the society board and members of Fellowship Methodist Church. On the menu: chicken and rice, pinto beans, rolls and dessert, accompanied by iced tea.
One repeat diner — who comes with his wife and infant son to meet her father — said the food usually was good. It was best, he said, when the volunteers stirred up homemade lemonade that was a mix of tart and sweet.
“That’s how you know everything’s going to be on point,” he said.
The soup kitchen recently also began the Master’s Table, an evening gathering the third Thursday of the month that offers soup or stew, a devotional, and volunteer singing or other music.
During the latest meeting, Venable said, the guitar-playing volunteer who had planned to attend was sick. A client stood up to ask whether she could sing. She did so a cappella.
“And it was beautiful,” Venable said.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.