Last spring a service-learning class at Tusculum College helped reopen the soup kitchen at Tabernacle Mission Presbyterian Church, and the ministry is once again thriving thanks to volunteers from various groups in the community.
The Tabernacle Mission Soup Kitchen on Wesley Avenue has been in operation for 11 years under the direction of Anna Maddox. Over the years, Robin Fife, assistant professor of social science, has taken service-learning classes to the soup kitchen to volunteer and learn about hunger in the community.
After the soup kitchen closed earlier this year due to health issues that Maddox was battling, Fife decided to reopen it using the members of one of her service-learning courses since it was the only regularly operating soup kitchen in the community. The soup kitchen is open Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. to serve meals.
This began a much more formal partnership between the soup kitchen and Tusculum. The soup kitchen remained open through the spring with the assistance of the service-learning classes and an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer working with the college’s Center for Civic Advancement. The Tusculum students researched safe food storage methods and accessibility to healthy, affordable foods. They created menus that addressed dietary and health concerns that had been reported in surveys, shopped for the food, cooked and served meals.
Once the spring semester ended in early May, Tusculum’s Center for Civic Advancement accepted the responsibility of long-term coordination of volunteers for the soup kitchen and faced a challenge immediately in that much of its past volunteer base would not be available since most Tusculum students were out for the summer.
This challenge presented another community group the opportunity to step up and make a significant difference at the soup kitchen. During the spring, Lisa Kolb approached Rachel Edens, director of the Center for Civic Advancement, about possible service projects for members of TEACH (Tri-Cities Education Association for Christian Homeschoolers) and liked the idea of volunteering in the soup kitchen.
Kolb and her husband, Marc Kolb, are officers on the Board of Directors of TEACH and she also serves as the assistant co-op administrator/elementary coordinator for the TEACH-Greeneville group. The TEACH Greeneville group serves more than 80 families in the Greene County area, offering co-op classes and opportunities for students to participate in athletics, debate, band, academic competitions and community service.
“The TEACH students have been absolutely phenomenal and definitely the glue that has held this project together, as they are able to work in the soup kitchen under the supervision of the two wonderful ladies that cook, Lynette and Karen, when our Tusculum students are on breaks and over summers,” Edens said. “They are extremely creative and really bring extra enthusiasm and care for this important project.”
Volunteers from TEACH Greeneville served the soup kitchen’s Thanksgiving meal on Nov. 14.
Other groups have become involved with the soup kitchen effort, and not just with cooking and serving. The Greeneville Master Gardeners plan to create a community garden at the soup kitchen.
With the community nature of the ministry, a Soup Kitchen Advisory Board was formed this fall with representatives from the stakeholders in the project. Members include the Rev. Dr. Dan Donaldson, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Greeneville; Gretchen Jay and Randi Nott of Greeneville Master Gardeners; Gene Maddox, president of the George Clem Multicultural Association who is also with Rural Resources; John McInturff, representing Greeneville Cumberland Presbyterian Church; Rachel Edens, Robin Fife, Lisa Kolb, Mary Hill and Vinton Copeland, a Tusculum senior majoring in political science and minoring in civic engagement.
“It has become a true community partnership and brings together a wide cross-section of our community,” Edens said. “I look forward to it being a hub for our service-learning and community outreach efforts at Tusculum.”
From February to August of last year, the soup kitchen served nearly 1,000 people. Volunteers provided the equivalent of more than $19,000 of labor in service at the soup kitchen.