Andrew Dys

At Rock Hill soup kitchen, nobody protested but all helped feed hungry

On Wednesday, there was a line for the food cooked and served by God’s Army. It is a place with a line six days a week.

Sounds like Chick-fil-A, whose president believes God wants marriage to be just between a man and a woman in a country where half of those traditional marriages end up in divorce court.

Lines ran out the door at Chick-fil-A stores – two in Rock Hill, one in Fort Mill – in a classic American display of free speech and the freedom to espouse religious beliefs and choice.

But it was not Chick-fil-A where 62 people lined up in Rock Hill Wednesday at lunchtime, shuffling from foot to foot without the money to buy a chicken sandwich served with a side of slaw.

This line was at the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen, started 26 years ago at a Catholic church fellowship hall on Crawford Road – where the food service is six days a week, just like Chick-fil-A.

Dozens of church groups volunteer once or twice a month to help the people who are so poor and hungry that the meal served might be all that person eats for that day.

There are Baptist volunteers and Presbyterian volunteers, Catholic volunteers and Methodist volunteers and more. The volunteers are black and white, Democrat and Republican, in any given week or month.

“You don’t have to attend nothin’, you don’t have to be nothin’ – ’cept hungry,” said Danny Henry, who eats lunch at the soup kitchen regularly.

On Wednesday, the people of Aldersgate United Methodist Church showed the face of Jesus Christ. They were not there in a protest over food and commerce, or to debate marriage and whom a person is supposed to love.

They were to perform the most basic of tasks – feeding the hungry.

Harry Gibson, a volunteer from the church, said a simple prayer before all ate: “Bless all the people here, and Father may you bring more here for help.”

Gibson – in charge of prayers and scouring pots and pans – said judgment of others and whatever choices they’ve made that brought them to the soup kitchen has to be left outside the door.

Nobody supporting traditional marriage – good, decent hard-working York County people who support Chick-fil-A believe in that man-woman union, surely – ate chicken sandwiches after waiting in this line, though.

Just the hungry poor who ate chili with beans. And the devout, religious, devotees of Jesus Christ who cooked for and served the broke and broken. Those servers seemed to soar in the grace of their work.

In 26 years, not a single person who has eaten at this soup kitchen has ever been asked if he is Christian or not, straight or not, a sinner or not in the eyes of others or the Lord.

One guy who said he was a penniless evangelist who has been homeless in two states for two years sat next to a lady who eats six meals a week at the soup kitchen. The guy was white and the lady black.

They could not have looked any more different, but they sure were the same – hungry.

“We just serve food to those who are hungry,” said Rose-Marie Neff, 84, who was right in the middle of that Aldersgate army of servers in charge of the bologna sandwiches, her face shining with the joy of love.

She served every person in the line who waited for cups of chili, bologna and cheese sandwiches, a slice of pie or cake. People came back for an extra sandwich after all had eaten, and Neff gave seconds.

The serving squad Wednesday also included Jon and Linda Beard, Fran Threatt, Donna Sliva, Margaret Henson and Janie and Steve Matson. The phrase “doing the Lord’s work” was used a half-dozen times.

“Five, six years we have been doing this, and proud to do it,” said Steve Matson.

At a table in the middle were two kids, one in early teens, the other around age 8 or 9. Each said “please” and “thank you” with lowered eyes when receiving their chili and sandwiches.

And then, sheepishly, each came up to the line again afterward.

“Brownie, please?” asked the younger kid.

Then the older brother came up and asked – nice as could be but clearly a bit embarrassed – for his own brownie.

Margaret Henson, with a smile that would not cease and joy surrounding her 84 years, gave each kid a brownie and there were not any questions about anything.

Except one: How could two kids be in a soup kitchen line, while across town, people stood in line to buy food just to make a point?