The Soup Kitchen in Langley will celebrate a remarkable milestone Thursday when volunteers dish up a free community lunch for the 1,000th time.
Group officials say it’s impossible to know just how many people have been fed since the kitchen’s inception nearly 10 years ago, but a rough calculation of the number of free meals served simmers around 110,000.
Each of those meals was the result of volunteer efforts and with donations, both food and monetary, from the community.
“It’s a God thing,” said Sharon Giberson, a Clinton resident and an organization founder.
Giberson started the soup kitchen with Connie Angst in 2003. At first, the pair was thinking about volunteering at a mission in Everett, but instead decided to form one of their own in Langley.
They approached the CMA Church’s board, now The Island Church of Whidbey, for the OK to hold the lunches in their kitchen, and gathered volunteers from the church’s beacon group.
Deciding to hold two lunches a week, on Tuesday and Thursday, the pair worked with four or five volunteers and served crowds of about 30 people, Giberson recalled.
That number has since swelled considerably.
Today, lunch attendance often numbers up to 150 people, though the average over the years is believed to hover around 110. Some past special events have seen turnouts greater than 250, however.
According to Jean Matheny, not everyone who shows up are those in need. The event has become a community affair and many just come to catch up with friends and neighbors, she said.
“We’ve found that a lot of people come just to be social,” Matheny said.
Matheny took over the Thursday lunch for Angst a number of years ago. She cooks, organizes and oversees the day’s activities but, as is often the case with loose volunteer organizations, she doesn’t have a formal title.
Neither does Giberson.
“They’ve (the volunteers) been calling me Soup Kitchen Mom,” Giberson laughed. “I don’t know if Jean wants that title or not.”
Both women rely heavily on their teams of volunteers, which fluctuate between eight and 10 people. People like Chef Dan Saul, Sally Berry, Saul Kitz and many more are what make the whole thing possible.
“We couldn’t do this without the volunteers; they are just fantastic,” Matheny said.
Saul, a nine-year soup kitchen veteran, said his service comes down to a few simple things. First and foremost, he’s a man born for the kitchen.
“I love to cook,” Saul said.
But cooking for pleasure isn’t the only reason he volunteers. The pot has been made all the sweeter by the people he’s met along the way. It’s those relationships that keep him coming back again and again.
South Whidbey residents, the business community and non-profit groups also deserve credit. People bring in produce from their gardens, Payless Food Store and the Clinton Food Mart donate food, and Good Cheer food bank pretty much gives the Soup Kitchen whatever it needs.
“Everybody in the community contributes,” Giberson said. “It’s amazing.”
Thursday’s lunch is from noon to 1:30 p.m. and is held at the church on Sixth Street and Cascade Avenue. On the menu will be pot roast, veggies, and of course, soup. Both chicken noodle and tomato bisque will be served. Cupcakes will also be available.
Justin Burnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.