Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Soup Bowl helps feed thousands

Local churches and volunteers have been working to provide food for those in need for nearly 30 years through a soup kitchen called the Community Soup Bowl.

First Baptist Church, First United Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church, Christ Episcopal Church and First African Baptist Church united in 1981 to form the ministry, which is located at 1711 23rd Ave., under the guidance of the Reverend Ray Pradat, who was the main visionary of the project.

“The ministers at that time saw hungry people in Tuscaloosa,” said Amy Grinstead, the Community Soup Bowl’s executive director. “Our mission is to serve the grace of God. We work to fill the peoples’ needs, and there are many different kinds of needs.”

Grinstead, who began filling in at the kitchen on a temporary basis five years ago, said although the food they serve is in constant demand, the recent economic slump has caused a steady rise in the number of people in need.

In 2010, the Community Soup Bowl served nearly 53,000 plates at a two-plate-per-person limit, which is enough food to serve more than half the people in a full Bryant-Denny Stadium. The kitchen is up and running from 11 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. every day of the year, including holidays.

“There is a need now more than ever,” Grinstead said. “Our numbers are increasing, food prices are going up and donations are going down.”

Grinstead,along with two permanent staff members and a band of dedicated volunteers, handles all the day-to-day business of managing, organizing, running and maintaining the operation. But despite a demanding workload and the recent increase in guests at the kitchen, she remains optimistic about the work of the Community Soup Bowl and its impact on the community.

“I’ve been here five years and it happens constantly; if there’s a need, I just tell one person, and the result is bombarding,” she said. “The people of the community always come through for us.”

Bill Pow, a member of the Community Soup Bowl’s board of directors and a part-time volunteer, said this optimism has not only affected the staff; it has also spread to community members who are in need.

“One thing I noticed is when you ask people how they’re doing, about 75 percent of them say ‘blessed,’” he said.

Grinstead said she believes in the Community Soup Bowl’s mission statement of seeking to “provide a warm, inviting atmosphere by opening our doors seven days a week to welcome and feed the hungry,” and in their goal of “feeding the hungry while serving God’s grace.”

“I have seen the grace of God happen here,” she said. “I’ve seen people come in in need and then better themselves. It just takes time.”

The Community Soup Bowl’s cook and weekend assistant director, William Laycock, said the most rewarding part of his job is seeing someone who truly needs and appreciates the service he and his fellow workers provide.  He said the work they do helps people get by in hard times.

“People do survive off of this,” he said. “There was a man who came and donated a whole truck full of food and he said, ‘About five years ago I was homeless, and if it wasn’t for this place I’d be dead.’”

Vincent Frazier, a community member who regularly visits the Community Soup Bowl, said he agreed with Laycock, and the service the churches provide affects a lot of people in the community.

“You get a lot of unfortunate people here,” he said. “If they were to shut it down for whatever reason, it would hurt a lot of people. I’ve seen mothers come in here with children in the community, and their parents can’t feed them. A lot of people depend on this.”

Frazier, who works for the city of Tuscaloosa, said he appreciates what the staff and volunteers at the Community Soup Bowl do and he realizes that they sacrifice time without getting anything in return.

“The people here are really nice,” Frazier said. “They don’t care who you are, or where you work, or if you work. They take their time to do this, and they don’t have to. It might be one meal, but it’s one that’s in your stomach.”

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