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Nearly 20 years ago Bobby and Helen Lynch of Gilkey had a desire to help feed the public.

As members of St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church, Ridgecrest Street in Rutherfordton the couple started the weekly Jericho Road Soup Kitchen with one can of green beans, luncheon meat and five pounds of potatoes.

Five people were fed from the St. Gabriel's volunteers that day.

On Wednesday, April 27, more than 160 meals were prepared and served to people passing by the church in vehicles or on foot. The hot meal included fish nuggets, oven baked sliced potatoes and mixed vegetables.

The meal was cooked on Tuesday night by the Episcopal Priest Toni Belhu and volunteer Donna Murray, a member of St. Francis Episcopal Church.

Early Wednesday morning, Bobby and Helen, along with other volunteers Roy Ham, Robert Francis, Joe Whitaker, Bo Turner, Donna Murray and Renee Lynch were in the kitchen heating the food, serving the plates, packing them in grocery bags and taking them outdoors for the drive-by distribution.

Renee is the daughter of Bobby and Helen and after a cancer diagnosis five years ago, she had to go on disability. After her recovery and being cancer free, Renee works side by side her mother every week in the soup kitchen. It's definitely a mother-daughter blessing.

After all plates were served, volunteers took the plates outside where they were given to the public. There are no questions asked and no paperwork to complete.

Due to the pandemic the soup kitchen operates outdoors but in the near future, hopefully those who receive a meal will have an opportunity to have their meal indoors.

Serving outdoors has worked wonderfully for the soup kitchen during Covid-19 times, volunteers said.

The meals are served to passing motorists or those who come by to pick up the food and deliver it to other people who can't drive to the Soup Kitchen.

If there are plates not picked up on Wednesday, they are taken to residents of hotels in Spindale.

Priest Belhu has been at St. Francis 10 months and the soup kitchen is one of the aspects of the church's servant ministry to other that drew her to Rutherfordton.

"I came for the interview and Helen showed me the food ministry," Belhu said. "I saw the ministry and the service to the community and how we could focus on the community in COVID time ...Sometimes we serve 160 people a week," she said.

Since Belhu's arrival, St. Gabriel's has received a grant from the WNC Episcopal Diocese to fund a community garden on the church property that will eventually provide fresh vegetables.

Donna Murray has been a volunteer about eight years. "I decided to get involved and help feed the people who need food," she said.

Among visitors dropping by the soup kitchen Wednesday was Sandra Miller Camp, retired from the NC Employment Commission office in Rutherfordton. Camp is the church pianist supporter of the food ministry.

After the work was completed Wednesday, Helen Lynch took a short trip down memory lane and talked about the beginning of the Soup Kitchen 19 years ago.

She and Bobby began the ministry and after seeing that the Green River Baptist Association (GRBA) was also conducting a soup kitchen nearby in downtown Rutherfordton, the couple went to them for advice and a desire to help their neighbors.

Today the GRBA food ministry is located in the office complex on North Washington Street, Rutherfordton and each Thursday evening a meal is served to the community.

All volunteers at St. Gabriel's rotate cooking the meal each week. The meal preparers come to the church on Tuesday night to cook and at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday volunteers arrive at the church's fellowship hall and begin packing the food

Although 80 years "young," Helen Lynch and Bobby have no plans to stop volunteering.

It keeps them young and blessed and the need for food remains real.

The ministry is a "Thank You, Lord" blessing not only for those who receive food but for volunteers, Helen said.

Anyone wishing a free lunch on Wednesday is invited to come by the church between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. to receive the drive-by meal.

The ministry receives its food from USDA and thus far had not had to budget the Food Pantry in the church budget due to grants and other donations.

Anyone wishing to make a donation toward the ongoing food ministry can send the donations to the church: St. Gabriel's Church, Jericho Road Soup Kitchen, P.O Box 2121, Rutherfordton, (NC 28139).

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