TANEYTOWN — The tiny 2-year-old ran to Sue Hartman's arms for a hug and a swing in the air.
"Hi, gorgeous," she called. "You're going to be a heart-breaker someday."
The scene, repeated every Wednesday, is the boy's welcome to the Carpenter's Table, where his family and other needy people come to share a warm meal at the soup kitchen in the basement of Messiah UnitedMethodist Church.
"It's something for me to look forward to everyweek," said a visitor who declined to give her name. "I know people here, and we feel like a family."
The free meal, started about twoyears ago by church member Anna Rollins, serves an average of two dozen people a week. During the summer and holidays when children are out of school, the number can reach four dozen, organizers said.
"There was a great need in the community and a great interest on the part of church members about meeting it, and they just couldn't figure out how to get started," Rollins said.
With some volunteer help and contributions from the community, the group began serving meals on Saturday mornings. In time, however, the volunteers realized that Wednesday would be a better time to serve.
"It seemed like Saturday was a family day," said Laurel Brown, a volunteer and member of Messiah. "People were spending time together and running errands, so it wasnot convenient to stop in the middle of the day for a meal. After wechanged it to Wednesday, we got a good following."
Brown said Wednesday is a good day for Taneytown's needy, since it is the only day the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchens in Westminster do not serve.
"That way we don't lose people to Westminster," she said.
In time, leadership was turned over to Hartman -- a member of Grace United Church of Christ, who is preparing to become a minister.
"When I was pregnant, I decided to turn it over to spend more time with my family," Rollins said. "But I also thought that it was such an important program that it should be able to run independent of me."
The kitchen now operates with the help of Carlos Pizza in Taneytown and eight city churches: Messiah United Methodist, St. Joseph's Catholic, Trinity Lutheran, Grace United Church of Christ, Taneytown Baptist, Pipe Creek Church of the Brethren and Baust United Church of Christ.
Eachweek, one group volunteers to prepare and serve the meal to the kitchen's guests. Guidelines are set about serving either a pasta or typeof meat, but menus are left up to the volunteers.
"I have a background in nursing, so I always try to have a well-balanced meal," saidHartman, who is also the youth minister at Grace Lutheran Church in Westminster.
Support is also given by Girl Scout troops, school groups, local businesses and smaller churches that donate food or moneyto the project.
"This is the type of thing I like because you don't have to deal with denominationalism," Hartman said. "People aren'tsaying 'I'm this' or 'I'm that.' They're looking at it as a Christian cause rather than a denominational cause."
For helpers and visitors alike, the kitchen is a place to gather for support and comfort with others who have economic problems.
And few of those Hartman serves are unemployed, she said.
"These people don't come just for ahandout," she said. "These people are making money, but not enough to put them over the hump. This gives them one less meal to worry about for the week."
Hartman -- who feels the kitchen is her way of obeying Jesus' command to help the poor -- also said the churches should be the ones to spearhead efforts to help those in need.
"The economy is bad enough and money is tight enough that these people need support in a group," she said. "I think we're going to see a lot more of this, and I challenge churches to get off their dead duffs and do something about it.
"A church isn't four walls, it's a community."