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Feeding the Homeless and Hungry

The Masters Table Soup Kitchen Provides a Mid-Day Meal 365 Days a Year

It’s that time of year when we become over-eaters. The holidays are filled with parties, gift buying and lots of meals with family and friends. While many of us enjoy the bounty of the season, there are others wondering where their next meal will come from. Fortunately, we have an organization right here in Augusta that helps feed those who need it on a daily basis.

The Master’s Table, located in downtown Augusta, is Golden Harvest Food Bank’s soup kitchen. It began during the 1982 recession as one of the first direct-service programs of Golden Harvest. “Thanks to the kindness and support of our community, the Master’s Table Soup Kitchen has grown to feed a noon meal to more than 300 homeless and hungry persons every day, 365 days a year,” says Chris Turner, development officer of the Master’s Table Soup Kitchen.
“It costs $630 a day to feed the hungry in Augusta, and 96 percent of every donation to Golden Harvest goes directly to this purpose,” says Turner.

The Master’s Table receives food from a variety of sources. “These include community food drives, direct contributions from local businesses and farmers and even the Master’s Garden where we grow our own organic produce that is used in meals served at the Master’s Table,” says Turner. Monetary donations are also used to purchase food from Feeding America. Every $1 spent provides $7.88 worth of food for the soup kitchen’s guests. In order to maintain operations on a yearly basis, the Master’s Table must bring in $160,000 per year.

A Community-Wide Effort

The Master’s Table is a large operation and involves collaboration from many parties ranging from Chef Tori Slaughter who is in charge of making sure the 300-plus guests receive a hearty meal each day, to Edna Roper who creates centerpieces for each table completely free of charge. Marilyn McKinnie is the manager who supervises all staff and operations. Volunteer Ginny Allen leads the Master’s Garden, which includes 32 raised beds. She maintains the gardens and works to ensure that they provide the most yield possible. Finally, Chris Turner is the development officer who makes sure the financial sustainability of the Master’s Table is met.

In the summer of 2010, the Master’s Table moved to a new $1.5 million facility on Fenwick Street. The move allows increased food access to those in need, according to Turner. “The facility itself is also conducive to better serving our mission,” he adds. The new facility includes prayer rooms, a large dining room that can seat up to 200 at a time, an open-air courtyard for outdoor eating and a state-of-the-art kitchen designed to cook meals efficiently and reduce waste.

No matter what the state of the economy, there is always a family in need of a warm meal, says Turner. Every single person who comes through the door has a unique story to tell. The purpose of the kitchen is to not only serve their bodies, but to also feed their spirits. “It’s not just about food,” he says. “It’s about community.” Sometimes the guests need someone to talk to who will truly listen. “Often this is the difference between regression and recovery,” says Turner.

How You Can Help

Feeding the hungry is a task that requires many volunteers. At the Masters Table, it takes more than 50 volunteers per day, seven days a week. Volunteers help prepare and serve the meals, greet guests and also take on special tasks such as playing music or offering a blessing before the meal. Shifts are from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Children between the ages of 8 to 12 can volunteer if accompanied by an adult family member. Teens, ages13 to17, may volunteer by themselves with their parent’s permission. It is preferable that parents accompany their children of any age the first time they volunteer. Also, with groups of five or more, the kitchen recommends calling three to four months in advance.

Another simple way to help is to commit to making a monthly gift for the Master’s Table. There is not a one-size-fits-all amount. However, if 500 people give $38 a month, the soup kitchen can cover the entire budget and continue their mission of feeding 300-plus a day. “Moreover, we will have the freedom to focus on growing the Master’s Table, rather than simply sustaining it,” says Turner. “That is our ultimate goal.”

For more information about how to volunteer or help the Master’s Table Soup Kitchen, please contact Chris Turner at 706-736-1199 or go online to goldenharvest.org.

Cammie Jones is an Augusta freelance writer and mother of three.

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