Aluminum trays of hot gravy and candied yams poured out of a tiny kitchen at the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rock Hill on Christmas morning.
With six burners and an oven on full blast, three cooks feverishly heated up cans of green beans and whole hams – enough to feed several hundred people by the afternoon. In a nearby room, dozens of volunteers filled Styrofoam containers with the food, ready to be delivered across Rock Hill to the elderly, sick or shut-ins unable to cook for themselves.
“It’s more than a one-person job,” said John Wanger, 78, who has volunteered for food delivery duty for 25 years. “This is really the true meaning of Christmas.”
Wanger went through a stack of black-and-white printouts of maps, highlighting each delivery route carefully because he doesn’t have a GPS to find his way around. The lists include each resident’s name along with notes about dietary restrictions and food preferences.
Volunteers delivered around 300 meals by noon as others stayed at the soup kitchen to serve another 100 or so plates to those dropping in to the seated dining area, including Lawrence Stevenson, who filled up on turkey, ham and, of course, pie.
The kitchen’s free meals are a way for the recently employed 25-year-old to “save a buck” while chatting with some familiar faces. Stevenson brought a container of food back home for his mother along with a package of dog food for her dog.
“I stepped up from the woods to the shelter to my own place,” he said, recalling a tough year that involved living in the woods of Fort Mill for several months. “I call it Southern strength.”
He sought help at a local nonprofit called Renew Our Community, which set him up with a job at FedEx earlier this summer. He now has his own apartment on Chestnut Street in Rock Hill and is planning a housewarming once he gets settled.
William Thomas, 73, has spent his last 20 or so Christmases dining at the kitchen. He lives with his sister in Rock Hill on a fixed income of disability and social security benefits.
He also filled up on some sweet potato pie and turkey, talking with folks nearby.
A holiday tradition
For many, a free Christmas meal with the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen is about more than just feeding hungry stomachs; it’s also become a holiday tradition for people on the other side of the counter.
George Hoskins, 56, has donated pallets of hamburger buns to the kitchen for years but stepped in this year to donate 20 frozen turkeys when staff ran out of funds to purchase the holiday staple.
“I’ve been hungry before too,” Hoskins said, who is an assistant manager of a local Bojangles’ restaurant. “It’s made my whole year.”
For the last 10 years, various members of the McMoore family have also stopped by on Christmas Day to donate wrapped socks and other presents to the kitchen’s diners – a tradition started by an uncle.
LaToya McMoore says she makes it a point to bring the youngsters as a way to show them that Christmas isn’t “all about them.”
Edan Hyatt, a 7-year-old from Tega Cay, has four years of volunteer experience under his belt. His mother started bringing him at the age of 3 to the kitchen on Christmas as a way to give back to the community. The family planned to open presents after they’ve finished their day of volunteering.
Michelle Nelson, 45, and Jayla, 13, have made it a point to volunteer every Christmas, but it was their first at the kitchen.
Both mother and daughter woke up early to deliver holiday cheer, with Michelle on delivery and Jayla on cranberry sauce duty.
“Everybody should be happy and full,” said Jayla. “This food makes people happy because they don’t have to worry about it.”