All the food was cooked for the Thursday evening Dec. 22 meal at the New Beginnings Soup Kitchen (NBSK) in Rutherfordton as volunteers waited for the drive through serving line to begin at 4:30p.m. Hundreds were expected to receive the free pre-Christmas dinner of turkey, dressing, gravy, green beans, rice and dessert.
Except for three or four times a year when soup is served, the soup kitchen volunteers serve a full course meal every Thursday from 4:30p.m. to 6p.m.
Steve Ruppe, a charter member of NBSK, was sitting at the desk at NBSK saying his last good-byes after volunteering more than 22 years as director/CEO. He was stepping away from the day to day, week to week operations.
"I was learning I couldn't make it all throughout the day every Thursday," Ruppe said from the Green River Baptist Association (GRBA) building where the soup kitchen has been operating for years.
Ruppe and his wife Ginger, Jane Camby and Betty Bridges, were the first four volunteers who began the Soup Kitchen approximately 22 years ago in a small building on Cleghorn Street in Rutherfordton. The first soup kitchen served six to eight people, Ruppe recalled.
But as the food ministry needs grew, there was a search for a new location to accommodate the meal cooking and volunteers.
Former GRBA Director Rev. Billy Honeycutt said at the same time the ministry was growing from the soup kitchen, the GRBA purchased the former motel building adjoining its property.
"Steve and Ginger came and asked about the possibility of establishing a kitchen in some of the rooms," Honeycutt recalls. "With a lot of hard work, searching for grants, purchasing equipment and much more over the decades, the Soup Kitchen has grown to a major source of providing a meal once a week to hundreds of people," Honeycutt said.
The couple had great vision and leadership.
"This ministry is an example of Matthew 25, 'I was hungry and you fed me'," Honeycutt said. "The ministry will continue and Steve and Ginger's vision will continue to point to their Christian faith. Well done, faithful servants," Honeycutt said.
The soup kitchen serves approximately 300 people weekly and delivers about 157 meals. Before the pandemic it was not unusual to serve 500 meals each Thursday, Ruppe said.
There are four delivery volunteers who take meals to shut-ins. If there are meals left, they are delivered to the Town & Country Inn in Spindale where families live.
"Over the years, I figured we've served 400,000 meals," Ruppe said. "There are no personal questions asked of those who drive through for a meal," Ruppe said.
When the Soup Kitchen first began, there was one refrigerator and one stove. Today there are multiple refrigerators, food pantries/shelves, a walk-in freezer and an appliance that can hold 42 gallons of soup.
As the director, Ruppe's job was also to write grants, order food, keep the books and "put out any fires along the way."
Food is purchased from a food service company and is paid for by the donations and grant money received from the supporting churches in the association and individuals across the county.
Stepping away as the Board Chair/CEO was not easy.
"Sometimes I am about to cry. This has been such a blessing to us. It is bitter sweet," Ruppe said. Due to health issues his wife Ginger Ruppe hasn't volunteered in a long time and as his health began to falter, he knew it was time to retire.
Teresa Sams, administrative assistant/clerk for the GRBA, has also worked closely with the Ruppes and other volunteers on a regular basis.
"I have had the wonderful opportunity of knowing and being friends with Steve and Ginger since they began using our GRBA facility. Over these many years, I have come to know that they are two very generous people of their time and talents," Sams said.
She said working with Ruppe in the business/finances transactions, "I have observed his love and dedication for this ministry. Steve told me that he was heartbroken that he had to give it up, but because of health issues of both he and Ginger, it was for the best," she said.
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"I will miss the regular visits, but he has said he still wants to help with the ministry as he is able. I am praying for God's blessings on them both as they retire from this ministry," Sams said.
Sams said that Ruppe's commitment to the ministry was evident as he was determined to leave the ministry in strong, good hands.
Bill Ford was chosen the new volunteer director/CEO.
"If he wasn't who he is and if I didn't feel he could do the job, I couldn't turn it loose," Ruppe said. He has full confidence in Ford's abilities and passion for the work as well as all the volunteers and supporters.
Ford said he can't replace Ruppe, but will do his best to fulfill the mission.
Prior to Ruppe's retirement from his decades-long volunteer job, he penned a letter of thanks to many businesses and volunteers who have made the ministry a success over the past two decades in helping thousands of people.
He especially thanked Honeycutt, Sams, David Jendrey, Jill Miracle, Beverly Black, the Naskoffs and hundreds of volunteers over the years.
He thanked Mt. Vernon, Spencer, Mountain Creek, Lake Lure, West Point, Piney Knob, Long Branch Baptist churches and the Green River Baptist Association for their support.
As a member of Mt. Vernon, Ruppe has made a personal commitment to come to the soup kitchen as a volunteer on Mt. Vernon's Thursday to feed the people.
"With a heavy heart I will be leave NBSK as CEO on Dec. 31, 2022," Ruppe said in his letter.
"It has been my pleasure to serve this ministry for the past 22 1/2 years. I have been blessed beyond words," he concluded.
"Even after working all day, I always walked away tired, but blessed. You get more out of it. We are so blessed.
"We have a new crew who will do a great job. If you want a blessing, work at the NBSK," Ruppe said.