Coming Out of My Bubble: Serving Others by Serving Food

Coming Out of My Bubble: Serving Others by Serving Food

Soup Kitchen

Guest Post by Hallee

I have a new venture in my life. One recent morning in Sunday School, our teacher announced that our class would be one of four groups who would be volunteering with a local church’s soup kitchen. That immediately got my attention. I had no idea my little town in central Kentucky had a soup kitchen.

I have always felt a strong calling from God to serve. Lately, it’s become an almost audible voice in my ear. I’ve discussed it with my husband, Gregg, feeling like the call was to go “out” – to join a mission group, pack a suitcase, and go — which would be a lot easier to consider if my husband wasn’t in Afghanistan, leaving me at home alone with three children. The conflict between this call versus my duties and responsibilities and love and life here occasionally overwhelmed my emotions. I felt like I was suffocating.

As soon as I heard the announcement about the soup kitchen, I wanted to get to work. I didn’t want to tarry while everything was coordinated, schedules were created, for me to wait my turn to go work just once a month. I now felt overwhelmed with this urgent, immediate feeling of “NOW”.

The next week, I fought the urge to call the host church of the soup kitchen all week which would have preempted my own church’s plans. I planned my youngest sons’ 2nd birthday party, entertained my parents from out of town, and enjoyed a weekend mini-revival at my church. Vacation Bible School started on Monday, and all day I would reach for the phone to call the soup kitchen, but set it back down again. That night at VBS, where I worked in the kitchen feeding the staff and helpers and serving snacks to the kids, I talked with our pastor while he ate, confessing my desire to step forward and work right away.

He told me he was going to the church the next morning with our youth pastor and the head of the men’s ministry, and invited me to join them. We worked Tuesday, getting an idea of what was needed so that schedules could be coordinated, and as we finished the day, the pastor told the head of the ministry that we would start our volunteer rotation in July.

I told her I’d be back the next day.

I found out that just one elderly woman cooked five days a week all by herself. At one time, there had been 2 cooks, but one of them hasn’t worked for the last two months due to illness. That left this lone woman to do everything all by herself, and she confessed to me that she felt “plumb wore out.” It was very easy to step up and say that I would start cooking even more.

My prayer is to be a complete blessing to this wonderful ministry. My family follows a Levitical diet. Among other things, we don’t eat pork. The first morning serving at the soup kitchen, we took big cans labeled with nothing more than “U.S. Government Pork”. We picked through the canned pig flesh and pulled out big chunks of fat and threw them out, then mixed the remaining meat with K.C. Masterpiece Barbecue Sauce (second ingredient: high fructose corn syrup). This we served on pre-packaged white bread hamburger buns, with Lays potato chips and canned peaches for sides. Dessert was a sugar-free cherry pie artificially sweetened with sucralose.

Almost all of the food is donated by amazing companies. There is a huge warehouse filled with cans and boxes and bottles, and the woman who runs it all (and who is the only other cook besides myself) sits down with her inventory and creates a menu plan. She does this on her own time, completely volunteer, and out of her heart.

The donated food isn’t piece-meal, as if the product of a community food drive. There are giant pallets of boxed mashed potatoes or gallon cans of green beans. Corporations give, processing plants give, grocery stores give. A local grocery store gives all of their day-old bread and desserts by the truck full, and what isn’t served that day is set on a table to be given out.

And this leads me to what I perceive as a very modern problem.

I’m going to pre-empt this by saying that I in no way am criticizing the ministry. I am not criticizing the generous companies that regularly donate this food to this organization. Nor am I criticizing the people who work so tirelessly, as volunteers, to serve this food to those who are clearly in so much need. What I am criticizing is the very existence of this food in the first place.

A woman came that day we served the BBQ sandwiches. She had a terrible headache and collapsed in the arms of the head cook, just sobbing, because she was so tired and so hungry and hadn’t eaten for two days. People come into this church and eat two, three, sometimes four helpings because this is the only food they’re going to get all day.

But the food is poisoning them.

farmers market fruit and veggies

Image by NatalieMaynor

I think I have been removed from the real world for too long. I live in my “real food” bubble, with my fresh fruits and vegetables, good meats, free-range eggs, organic dairy, and fresh milled flour. We choose to spend more on groceries and take more time on meals so that our family can benefit from the extra cost and the extra effort. In the end, we spend much less on health care. And when I have occasion to walk through the grocery store aisles, I have actually found myself getting angry with the volume of just pure junk that crowds the shelves.

I wonder when the tables turned. When did processed, chemical laden, nutrient lacking pre-packaged foods became the most economical, the most convenient, the thing that everyone wanted. Why does society just accept that a meal-in-a-box sitting on a grocery store shelf for possibly months at a time is ‘as good’ as fresh meat and fresh ingredients being used to make a dish of the same name?

I watch these poor, hungry people; so many of whom are sick, toothless, wheezing, hurting — and I want to hug them and then feed them GOOD food. I want to offer them rich breads and hearty fresh produce. I want to make big batches of a bone broth and load it down with fresh vegetables and aromatic, medicinal herbs and serve it with fresh-baked whole grain bread.

But there is no way I can do that. I can’t afford to feed hundreds of people a day all by myself. Even if I could afford it, I’m facing a society of people who don’t understand that there is even anything wrong with the mega-farm, factory-processed, all-of-the-life-sucked-out-of-it ultra pasteurized, ultra-homogenized, artificially colored, artificially sweetened food.

I think as I became a “real foodie” and started making the best choices for my family, and as the last six years have gone by and I’ve removed myself from the junk food world, that I’ve put on blinders.

I find myself getting angry in the grocery store, then pretend that it isn’t there. What? Hallee the Homemaker angry? Yes. I am. I watch shows like Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and get fired up about our kids’ school lunches and the health of the children today, and assume that everyone else has the exact same reaction that I have to it. I assume that people just naturally care about it, and are willing to make the changes that I have made, all of which have so greatly improved our quality of life.

I assume that corporations know that the artificial this and that, the preservatives and industrial grade chemicals, the processing that they put food through — I assume that they know how harmful to the health of consumers these things are and they are are willing to make changes that will better serve us in the end. And I am so very disappointed every time I read the labels of new products to find hydrogenated this and high fructose that all sweetened with aspartame.

Now I’m in the mix of it. Now I’m cooking with it. There simply is no other option. You can’t tell someone who hasn’t eaten for two days that they can’t eat this food because it isn’t good for them. I mean, come on.

The biggest problem is the ignorance (and I use this term in it’s purist meaning – as in a lack of knowledge and education – and not in a derogatory manner) of most consumers in society. What do you have to do to food to make it shelf-worthy in cardboard for months? What do you have to strip away from it and add to it for that to happen? And why don’t we seem to care?

In my perfect world, the donated food would come from local farms. It would take a few more volunteers and a lot more time and effort (A LOT more time and effort), but the food would be wholesome, nourishing, healing, and healthy. And it would more than fill the bellies of the people who eat it – it would benefit their lives, too.

I feel like maybe God is using me for this. Maybe He’s sent my family on this real food path, sent us seeking all of the books and information and education. Maybe my exposure to the real foodie community through my blog and through such amazing sites like Keeper of the Home and Kelly the Kitchen Kop has been to prepare me for this ministry. Maybe this journey has brought me to this soup kitchen so that I can help impact it and start getting these people good food.

Yesterday, I talked with the owner of the fruit stand the boys and I walk to a few times a week – where we shop for all of our seasonal fruits and vegetables. After he donated a huge portion of the apples, pears, and peaches I needed for a bake sale, I talked to him about donating produce that he couldn’t sell anymore to the soup kitchen. With his supplier contacts and local farming networks, I think that we can start getting some fresh food coming into the soup kitchen.

It’s a start. I’m happy to start somewhere.

Coming Out of My Bubble: Serving Others by Serving FoodHallee Bridgeman is a homemaker and mother of 3 in small town Kentucky who juggles cloth diapers, grain mills, two precocious toddlers, a teenager, and a ministry that has her feeding hundreds of people a week — all while her husband is in Afghanistan. She has been blogging since August and covers everything from fresh ground whole wheat bread bowls and the breakdown model for Biblical womanhood, to how to clean chubby little lipstick hand-prints off of eggshell white walls. Hallee the Homemaker is delighted to be guest-posting for Keeper of the Home.

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  1. Thank you for your post, Hallee. It’s a tremendous problem and I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Good post. Thanks for sharing.

    1 1/2 years ago, the Holy Spirit called me into the downtown area of Grand Rapids to serve the poor and homeless. We serve lunch each Saturday in a park. Serving and meeting Christ in His people is one of the greatest blessings in life. God is amazing!
    Check out my blog

    God bless you.
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Understanding the poor =-.

  3. Hallee –
    As much as possible, I try to serve local and organic food. One of the sustainable farms in our area has donated 150 pounds of meat over the past year! Preparing fresh lentil soup with this meat is truly a prayer and a joy to our Heavenly Father. As a good friend of mine says, “I can’t do everything, but I’ll do everything I can.”
    Peace be with you.
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Understanding the poor =-.

  4. That is great, Hallee! What an amazing ministry, but also that you want to give them more than just processed food. You want to give them food that will help them get healthy. What a blessing you are! I pray that God will help you find more companies/businesses that will be willing to donate “real food”!
    .-= Sherry´s last blog ..Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream =-.

  5. I feel the same way you do Hallee and it just boggles my mind! I was looking at a place online last night that sells discounted food….I am debating about buying it, but the only problem is that 6 of the items are the processed stuff that we have given up. So now we are trying to decide its still worth it. There is ground meat, whole chicken,and fresh fruit and veggies included.
    .-= Heather´s last blog ..Parmesan Crusted Chicken and Creamy Herb Rice =-.

  6. We have a soup kitchen where I live also and mostly all of the food served is processed, like what you’ve seen at your food kitchen. My husband volunteers there. But there is progress being made in many places. One young man I know (in his thirties) is a chef and after working for several high-end restaurants in the Napa Valley, he decided he no longer wanted to cook for those who have, but rather for those who have not. He quit his prestigious job and went to work for the local rescue mission. Somehow he has managed to get good food donated. He works with whatever comes in and is training the men that come in for help from the mission to cook real food also – to be chefs. He just felt the call to feed those who were really hungry like Jesus did. It’s a matter of compassion as it was with Christ.

    Please follow the following link to see an interview with Tim, the compassionate chef. It will absolutely warm your heart. May all the glory go to our good God.

  7. Awesome post!!! It sounds as though you are truly called! God does prepare us, but you needn’t do it alone:) Be sure of where He wants you to start, and have hope! He can do great things…. But must of all, be encouraged! Hopefully more people will begin praying for you and your family as you embark on this adventure, b/c I think you’re really on to something here:) Blessings on you and your family:)

  8. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss! I struggle with this on a personal level – like many of your readers I’m sure – knowing that most of what we find in our grocery stores isn’t even real food and yet also faced with the reality of a growing (hungry) family and limited food budget. Your post was excellent. Sad but excellent. I do think that those of us in a position to ‘vote with our dollars’ ought to do the absolute best we can to bring awareness to the need to get back to real food – like you are doing. I’d love to hear more from you in the future.

  9. I completely agree but see one sad fault in your argument: In my perfect world, the donated food would come from local farms. First there’s got to *be* local farms growing diverse foods. Part of the entire reason there’s so much fake food on the shelves can be traced back to agricultural policy, specifically big corn. I think one path of attack to this problem is the awareness of the battle farmers face in trying to be local and diverse suppliers of good quality meats and vegetables. But, I will say I’m 44 years old and just becoming aware of this issue. I think back to the days when my husband and I ate canned-sauce sloppy joes on white buns every week!

  10. I was just thinking about this situation the other day! Praise the Lord you answer the Holy Spirit’s call. Blessings on you and your children in this season while your husband is overseas. May the Lord bring him back to you whole, as only He can do!
    .-= Ambre´s last blog ..Jitters Juice Bar =-.

  11. Good for you, Hallee! I hope you’ll come back and let us know how it goes. Hearing the junk those poor people have to eat just broke my heart. I’ll pray for your efforts!

  12. Great article!!! I struggled with this very issue as well and found some relief in gardening in our Food Bank Gardens, I participated in a community garden that donated to our food giving ministry, and then we moved to where there isn’t a closeby community garden so that will be my ministry 🙂

  13. I can’t believe I’m reading this article – you just said everything I’ve been thinking for the past two weeks. I’m a school librarian in Athens, GA. Despite my hectic school schedule during the year, I’ve been really feeling Christ’s call to help. So I decided to volunteer at several places and see what’s available to the homeless/hungry in my town. On one day, I packaged food for an organization called “Stop Hunger Now.” This was a soy/rice package with chicken flavored tablets, dehydrated veggies, and vitamin tablets. Not too happy with this (but I’d be thankful for it if I were starving – and I applaud their amazing efforts and innovation). For my next volunteer job (local soup kitchen), I flipped hundreds of sausages for a breakfast-style lunch. The guests had already eaten pancakes for breakfast, and we served french toast (w/ corn syrup), soy/grain sausage, and cheese grits. There was also dessert – those massive frosted cookies (2 on a plate) or a huge glazed cinnamon roll (of the worst kind). I also witnessed a LOT of health problems going on. I felt terrible seeing the amount of sugars people were consuming…enough for a diabetic coma. Lots of people with mental issues – certainly not a good diet for stability.

    Ironically, I began thinking about the soup kitchens of the Great Depression. These were SOUP kitchens – cooking with real food. Even though I’m sure the soup was thin and meat/veg was lacking, at least it wasn’t toxic! Soup was also very thrifty – making the most of every resource. The woman at the soup kitchen actually talked about making an amazing chicken vegetable soup several months back when the local food bank had some whole chickens available. This made me start thinking that if the food became available by suppliers and easy plans and basic education was developed for local workers and volunteers, we’d have a good start.

    People deserve access to a healthy meal. Nothing fancy – just the simple basics. I’ve heard some details about a local CSA providing garden access and food for the poor. That’s my next destination if I can find it. I’ll be eager to hear about your progress, and I’ll be praying that Christ will guide us in this desire to nourish our brothers and sisters. 🙂

    1. @Lindy, So funny, but the day this posted, we made chicken noodle soup. The chicken was frozen bits, the onions dehydrated, the carrots canned — but I chopped real celery and flavored it simply with real herbs. It was wonderful, and such an answer to prayer. That day, we fed 300 — double what we normally feed. We ran out of food and had to pull pimento cheese spread and bread out to make sandwiches for late comers.
      .-= Hallee the Homemaker´s last blog ..Coming Out of My Bubble: Serving Others While Serving Food =-.

  14. I too have run into the exact same problem and it is SOO frustrating! Unfortunately, the problem is not just with the people supplying the food, but the people receiving the food as well. They have not had palates trained to appreciate health food, but have subsisted on processed foods, fake fats, sugar, etc etc etc for so long that they really don’t want anything else. It is immensely frustrating on so many levels. But it sounds like you are doing a wonderful job of making something happen where you are. I am excited for you, and a teensy bit jealous :). I too have always longed for the mission field. Our life circumstances make that impossible at this moment, but I feel the yearning to GO and DO SOMETHING, I’m just not sure what that’s supposed to be, and with 4 kids, I don’t know how much I CAN do in this season. God bless you in your work

  15. our local csa’s donate their extra boxes for the week to our local food bank. when people go on vacation and can’t pick up their box then it goes to the hungry. Maybe the farmers at your local market would be willing to send you the extra boxes from their csa every week.

  16. Amazing! Your writing echoed my thougths lately, though I’m not sure serving in a soup kitchen is quite what I’m called to. Our real food journey has only been a little over a year in the making, and there is still plenty we need to cut out, but I too get frustrated that we were ever offered this junk in the first place! I have more fresh milk than we can consume in our family and more will be coming soon…eggs by the dozen pile up in our fridge and I’ve wondered what to do with it all. I’ve prayed that God would send someone that needs these items, as it’s not enough to supply a soup kitchen. I had a conversation recently with someone that used to work on “ministry farm”, OK would that be a co-op? Anyway, it made me realize there are people at my church that have experience growing real food for those that can’t. I think that might be the route to go. I picture a CSA type of farm where people come help feed the chickens, milk the goats and cows and leave with real, healthy food. We could even raise meat birds and have people come on processing day to help as a way to pay for their share.

    Thanks for the post!
    .-= Kelly Cook´s last blog ..Congratulations =-.

  17. I understand your heart and your frustrations on so many levels. I volunteer at our church’s food pantry every week and so much of what we give is NOT real food, but as others have noted, it’s what has been donated and what the people who are receiving the food want to eat. We have fliers every week for FREE nutrition classes that teach how to cook healthy, whole foods, but no one is interested.

    It is so hard for us to remember that there is a completely different paradigm at work in people living in poverty. They are so completely overcome and overwhelmed by SURVIVAL that putting any thought or care into what they are eating is just too much.

    I am thankful for those who mentioned a community garden. I would love to see something like that started locally.
    .-= Megan@SortaCrunchy´s last blog ..SortaCrunchy Q-ampA – Parenting Books- Some Favorites of Mine =-.

  18. Hallee,

    I was almost in tears as I got to the end of your post. Thank you so much for sharing your story … this problem has been nagging at me as well. Even though I have worked hard over the past year to eliminate bad foods from my family’s diet and a greater portion of our income has gone to whole foods, I have been reminded with every grocery trip how much money I could “save” if all we ate was processed junk. The issue of hunger in our nation is troubling and because I have volunteered in soup kitchens as well, I know the type of food that is served and what gets donated to food banks. I share your heart in wanting to provide good, nourishing and whole foods to the people living among us who are the most desperate for nutrition. I agree with you that the problem is a pervasive lack of information in our society about our food supply. The only way I believe this can change is through education and a slow but sure alteration in where we put our dollars; we have the power to choose. Thank you again, you’ve truly inspired me.

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