Soup Kitchen Saviors

Freddie Hodges, Charlee Pullon, Orethia White & Ida Martin

Did you know there was a soup kitchen in Beaufort County? Neither did I. So imagine my surprise when I learned there were actually four in the Hilton Head/Bluffton area. As I drove to meet with the four wonderful ladies who had started this outreach to the community, I must admit my mind was on other things. I was wearing my winter jacket and boots with the heat cranked up in my car and thinking about what a cold day it was. I was chatting with my aunt about where we could meet for lunch once I was finished. I was thinking about how happy I was that the church was close to my house, a mere two and a half miles away. I was thinking about everything else but what I was about to experience.

As I walked into Campbell Chapel I was greeted by the smiling faces of volunteers, chefs, and the lovely ladies in charge: Freddie Hodges, Charlee Pullon, Orethia White, and Ida Martin. Before they began serving food, we all stood in a big circle and prayed for the soup kitchen, the community, and the individual needs of the people present.

When I sat down with these four phenomenal women, who represent Grateful Hearts Soup Kitchen, St. Andrew by the Sea United Methodist Soup Kitchen, Campbell Chapel Community Soup Kitchen and St. James Community Soup Kitchen, what hit me immediately was their shared attitudes of humility and gratitude. They poured thanks out to the support of the local churches and businesses that made the outreach possible. They beamed over the thousands of volunteers and chefs who have helped run the operation since the first soup kitchen opened in November 2010. They introduced me to Reverend Reginald Jackson, pastor of Campbell Chapel, and expressed their appreciation for the pastors that allowed the churches to be used week after week to feed the hungry. But mostly, they gave all the glory to God and the power of prayer. "The soup kitchens keep you on your knees. We are constantly praying someone will come through, and in my experience, they always do. Prayer runs our kitchens. If you want to put something in [your article], put that," said Orethia.

As the four women talked more about the individual kitchens that they were involved with, I learned that each one has its own structure, personality, and community participation. For example, Grateful Hearts is made up of about 80% Hispanic individuals, many of which don't have any transportation, so they walk, ride their bikes, push baby carriages, in the rain or shine because that may be the only meal they get for the day. Other kitchens are made up of primarily black and white, hard-working people, who eat one meal a day there to help with the budget at home. "Culture is very important to people and we respect that. We have chefs and food of all different backgrounds and traditions. Many people don't come at first because they think they'll have to tell us their names and backgrounds. It takes a long time to gain their trust, but once you do, they'll tell you their life stories," said Charlee. "Our motto is: If you're hungry, you're welcome. No questions asked," added Freddie.

As I talked further with these incredible women, I was able to get a glimpse into their personal lives and the past and present experiences that fueled their desires to make a difference in the community. Orethia was one of nine children growing up, so she knew what it was to be in need. "My mother and father were very hard-working people, but when you have that many kids, you are always in need of something. We lived in the country and all our neighbors grew things and shared with each other. We couldn't have done it on our own." Because of this Southern tradition of sharing with her neighbors, Orethia planted a garden over the summer to provide fresh vegetables for the soup kitchen.

Freddie was the original founder of the first soup kitchen, Grateful Hearts, which stemmed from the concern for her child in Maryland who is homeless. "I was concerned about the homeless on the island a few winters ago when the weather was harsh. A friend and I were looking for a way to house them, and that energy turned into, if we can't house them, we can feed them. The Lord has taught me to use the concerns and worries I have for my own child to help people here."

All four women have full or part-time jobs and other volunteer involvements, but every week they are at the churches, reaching out to those in need as the participation continues to grow. Just a couple weeks ago there were 60 people expected, and the soup kitchen served 140 in one hour! Ida Martin was the original founder of Bluffton Self Help, and at the age of 85, is still making a difference all over the community, including delivering more than 50 meals a week to house-bound individuals and senior citizens.

As I drove home after the meeting, my thoughts had shifted. I was wearing my winter jacket and boots with the heat cranked up in my car, thinking about what a cold day it was, and how there were people right now walking through the cold air, wearing less than I was. I was chatting with my aunt about where we could meet for lunch, and I was overwhelmingly grateful that I had options. I was thinking about the fact that the church was close to my house, a mere two and a half miles away, and I never even knew the operation existed. But mostly, I was thinking about these four wonderful women, and how their dedication and faithfulness was helping to change lives day after day, week after week. Although they say it to everyone else, I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to Freddie, Charlee, Orethia, and Ida. You are truly miracles to the homeless and hungry in Beaufort County, and a shining example of Christ's love to all you come in contact with.