A most important Rock Hill anniversary passed Wednesday with no cake, save donated coffee cake.
No politicians, no speeches, no fanfare, no banners, no candles – not even a song. Just a line at 902 Crawford Road, where there is a line six days a week.
Rock Hill’s poor and homeless and broke and broken lined up to eat.
“Everyone is Welcome,” the sign above the door says, and this is one place where they mean it.
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There was fried chicken and fried okra, green beans and potatoes, rolls and coffee cake.
“I’d like that big wing there,” a man with a dirty shirt and dirty pants – and, yes, a dirty face – said.
“It’s yours,” came the cheerful reply from a cheerful server.
Everybody ate as much as they wanted and took seconds if they still were hungry. Nobody asked anything of any of them – including names.
Wednesday marked 30 years and more than a million meals served at the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen. Nobody has ever paid a dime for the meals, and nobody who has cooked the food or served the food has ever been paid.
Through it all – from before the very first day through today — stands the 79-year-old, 5-foot-2-inch giant who founded the place, Bev Carroll.
“It’s not me,” Bev Carroll warns anyone trying to heap praise on her. “It’s a community. It’s all of York County.”
Yet someone has had the responsibility of being in charge for 30 years, and that was and is Carroll. This soup kitchen attracts more than 200 volunteers from churches, civic groups and schools who work to make sure the poor do not drop dead in the street from starvation.
The food comes from Second Harvest Food Bank and donations. The labor comes from the heart.
The volunteers are white and black, Hispanic, American Indian and Asian. They come from all denominations and creeds. They are young and old, well-off and struggling themselves.
What brings them together is the soup kitchen.
On Wednesday, it was the turn of a group from Aldersgate United Methodist Church. The bunch served the poor with smiles, joy and love.
It really is that simple.
“I had hoped that we wouldn’t have to last 30 years, or even three years,” said another of the founders, Brother David Boone of the Catholic Oratory in Rock Hill.
Boone, 83, the legendary civil rights protester and organizer, fighting cancer, in a wheelchair, hasn’t stopped helping and serving since.
The only way either Carroll or Boone will ever stop is for the poor to stop being poor. That hasn’t happened since Jesus pointed out that the poor needed a meal, though.
“I hope we go out of business,” Boone said. “I hope there is no need to feed the hungry, that all have enough to eat. But if we are needed, we will be here. As long as it takes.”
On Wednesday, the poor lined up to see Boone and Carroll and shake hands and talk. The words and actions of both and the volunteers showed the poor they are not forgotten. They matter. They may be unwashed and desperate, even homeless, but they will not starve.
Yet like all great things, the kitchen almost wasn’t. In 1986, after the Pilgrims’ Inn charity had opened and was running a kitchen, founders Carroll and Boone – along with Catherine Sullivan, Father David Valtierra and Joe Guyon of the Oratory – started Dorothy Day across the street from its home the past 25 years at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Pilgrims’ Inn needed a group to step up and start a stand-alone soup kitchen. Carroll, Boone and the others decided they were it.
For years, they had to hold yard sales to raise money to buy food.
“But it caught on,” Carroll said.
Volunteers started calling and asking to help – and they’ve never stopped.
Because the poor never stop coming. The hungry take no vacations.
“You start something like this, you can’t stop,” the late Father Valtierra once told the people starting the soup kitchen. “It must go on.”
And it has.
In recent years, Carroll said, the kitchen has become even stronger, gaining nonprofit status and a board of directors along with the herds of volunteers who handle many of the duties she alone managed for so long.
“I’m not going anywhere, but I won’t be here forever,” Carroll said. “And this is all who volunteer. Every one of them.”
Carroll probably said that 30 years ago, too, and the woman whose strength comes from some power source unknowable to mortal men pushes on. She has no plans to slow down.
The anniversary passed the way it should have – the hungry poor were fed, and the soup kitchen volunteers asked nothing in return.
On Wednesday, Carroll mentioned the anniversary in a single sentence and then told the assembled crowd, “Keep coming – we have lots to feed you.”
Want to help?
The all-volunteer, all-donation run Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen located in Bannon Hall at 902 Crawford Road in Rock Hill celebrated 30 years serving food to the hungry April 6. It is open 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. To donate or volunteer, call 803-366-4142, or write to P.O. Box 8045, Rock Hill, SC 29732.