CHARLESTON -- Soup Stop has been serving up free hot food and sack lunches to people in financial need for a decade now.
The idea for this soup kitchen-style non-profit group was conceived by Rev. Susan Reichenberg of the First Presbyterian Church in Charleston as a way to serve those who might otherwise go hungry.
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Soup Stop, which is non-denominational, opened in June 2001 in the basement of First Presbyterian at 311 Seventh St., just north of the courthouse square, and has operated there at no charge ever since.
Volunteer Carl Curran has been there from the beginning, becoming a licensed food handler in the process.
"I felt this way I could make some kind of contribution that will benefit the community," said Curran, who is a retired Eastern Illinois University history professor.
Curran helps serve an average of 25 to 30 people per day at Soup Stop, which is open 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. He said attendance has increased this summer while children are out of school and their parents face the continuing economic downturn.
"People are out of work. You can hear them talking about it here. They are looking for a job," Curran said.
John Schanlaber of Charleston is one of the many community members facing financial hardships who have been helped by Soup Stop's services over the years.
Schanlaber said Soup Stop was there for him five and a half years ago when he was homeless for six months, living first in a condemned apartment building and then in a tent in a friend's backyard.
The soup kitchen provided him with food during the week and introduced him to people who could tell him about other social services that he could seek out in Charleston while he found a job, Schanlaber said.
"Some people can use (Soup Stop) as a spring board to get back on their feet," Schanlaber said, explaining that he is among these ranks.
Schanlaber, who has since started a family, has returned to Soup Stop with them in recent years to volunteer. Schanlaber added that he met his wife, Shauna, while she was volunteering at Soup Stop, where her grandmother Barb Fanello was a board member.
Mary-Nance Miller, chair of the Soup Stop board, said they have been fortunate over the years to recruit a dedicated group of volunteers for the staff and the board. She said Soup Stop is dependent on volunteer labor and on donations for all of its operations.
First Presbyterian Church does not have a commercially licensed kitchen, so Soup Stop is limited to serving pre-prepared or prepackaged meals in the dining hall and peanut butter sandwiches in its take-home lunches.
The What's Cookin' restaurant, located across the street, has provided beef and noodles, cornbread and beans, and other hot food at a discounted rate for Soup Stop since summer 2002.
"We could not operate if it were not for What's Cookin.' They are absolutely a mainstay," Miller said.
Monetary donations can be sent to Soup Stop, care of Treasurer Peter Leigh, at P.O. Box 722, Charleston, Ill. 61920. Peanut butter, bottle water, coffee, paper products and other supplies can be brought to First Presbyterian between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.