By DENISE FEDOROW Correspondent
---- — NAPPANEE — A collaborative effort between Faith Mission of Elkhart, Chicago/Michiana Five for the Homeless of Nappanee and Nappanee Church of the Brethren is bringing a new soup kitchen to Nappanee.
John Shafer, founder of Chicago/Michiana Five for the Homeless, said he first had a vision of bringing a soup kitchen to Nappanee in the summer. He shared his vision on his Facebook page and a friend, Deb Lehman, “caught” the vision.
Lehman is a member of Nappanee Church of the Brethren and she mentioned it to her pastor, Byrl Shaver, who loved the idea. Shafer said a random act of kindness on Lehman’s part is what stirred Faith Mission’s involvement.
According to Shafer, Lehman brought cookies over to Faith Mission and ended up speaking to Director Ross Swihart about her conversation with Shafer. Swihart called John the next day and said, “You work on the place and we’ll provide the meals.”
The pastor, congregation and church board at Nappanee Church of the Brethren all thought hosting a soup kitchen would be a great way to serve the community. Right now plans are to host the soup kitchen Mondays and Thursdays every week from 5 to 6 p.m.
Originally, soup kitchen organizers were going to start serving this coming Monday, but now they are planning to start after the first of the year.
Shafer credits Lehman for making his vision a reality. “From her one act of kindness to Faith Mission, it’s moved this vision forward quickly,” he said.
“We were excited to get going,” Shaver said, “But sometimes God’s time is not our time.”
Swihart said rather than just push full steam ahead with the venture, “We want it to be successful.”
Swihart said Faith Mission has U.S. Department of Agriculture and Elkhart County Health Department requirements to abide by, so they have to make sure that when transporting the food and serving meals they maintain certain temperatures, etc.
Speaking of God’s timing, Swihart said he can see it in play for Faith Mission’s involvement. He said Faith Mission personnel are working on a strategic three-year plan, and one focus is to better serve the county.
“I think it’s cool to see God’s timing in place for this opportunity. It fell right in line with what we do as an organization,” Swihart said. “One of the things we do really well is food preparation. We serve three meals a day for our residents plus for walk-ins.”
Although Faith Mission and Chicago/Michiana Five for the Homeless’s main focus is working with the homeless, everyone involved in this venture is stressing that the soup kitchen will be open for everyone.
“Our number one focus is meeting the needs of the homeless, but also the elderly, low-income people, people who may be missing meals because they are on a fixed income,” Swihart said. “Maybe there are people living in cars, living on the edge or under-employed people who don’t qualify for federal food programs.”
Shaver agreed that there is a need for a soup kitchen in Nappanee. Shaver said he’s involved in a mentoring program at Woodview Elementary School and knows some of the young people who receive two free meals at school.
“I’ve talked to them and sometimes they get no supper at all,” he said.
John Shafer said, “There are so many unemployed, so many seniors and families struggling paycheck to paycheck. There are always people impoverished — those who are trying to choose between meals and rent. Having a soup kitchen is a great way to bring the community together.”
Some of Nappanee’s city officials didn’t know a lot of details about the soup kitchen but were supportive.
Mayor Larry Thompson pointed out there are Real Services meals provided for senior citizens at the Elder Haus Senior Center, and a weekly meal is provided at a couple of other churches in town practically free. But he said everyone working together to ensure everyone’s needs are met is a good thing.
Connie Fink, Elder Haus Senior Center director, said she can see where a soup kitchen could be beneficial, especially this winter. She said some of the senior citizens who come for Real Services meals may be hesitant to venture out at night, but others may take advantage of it.
Thompson said this kind of community effort, as well as other services provided in the city by organizations including Family Christian Development Center, Open Door, Real Services and other churches, bring about what he called a “missional renaissance — everyone working together, sharing meals, mentoring, a faith-based way to help people.”
“As they do this thing — it’s about helping with food. But what’s unsaid is the mentoring that’s going on,” Thompson said. “People who may need a break and you never know what doors may open as they’re sharing and mentoring — giving everyone a better chance.”
Shaver said there are no restrictions on who can come for the meal and no income guidelines.
“If you show up, you’re going to have a meal and we’ll fellowship and share,” he said. “Whoever God brings to the door, that’s who’s going to eat that day.”
For more information For more information or to volunteer to serve in the soup kitchen, contact Nappanee Church of the Brethren at 574-773-4044.