Meals, companionship on the menu Soup kitchen in Edgewood resembles cafe HARFORD COUNTY

February 28, 1993|By Karin Remesch | Karin Remesch,Staff Writer

Two years ago, Lou wouldn't have thought twice about taking his family to a nice restaurant. But since he lost his job, even fast-food places are out of the question.

Without The Sharing Table, an Edgewood soup kitchen that looks more like a friendly cafe, his family might have gone hungry yesterday.

The cupboards at home are bare, there's no money to buy any food and food stamps won't arrive for another week, said his wife, Jan, who asked that the family's last name not be used.

Not quite sure what to expect, Lou and his family went to The Sharing Table reluctantly yesterday, but quickly felt at ease after being greeted by smiling volunteers and seated in the dining room.

A volunteer waitress took their order, and in no time the family of four enjoyed a hearty meal -- chili, French bread, corn and cupcakes.

"This chili is better than my dad's," said 12-year-old Joe.

The Sharing Table has been offering free hot lunches on Saturdays at Presbury United Methodist Church on Edgewood Road in Edgewood since January.

Run by a nonprofit coalition of churches and individuals, the soup kitchen tries to make life a little easier for people in need.

"Serving only one meal a week might not be a lot," said Susan Graper, who along with Joanne Wigglesworth coordinates the program. "But it's one less meal to fix for people who have to stretch their meager resources."

Beginning next month, those going to the soup kitchen on the third Saturday of each month also will receive a free bag of groceries, Mrs. Graper said.

The two women decided to start the program after realizing about 23 percent of people receiving public assistance live in the Edgewood area and that the only other two soup kitchens providing weekly free lunches were miles away.

The Manna House at Bel Air United Methodist Church serves lunch on Wednesdays, and Grace Place at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Havre de Grace offers a hot midday meal on Thursdays.

At The Sharing Table, volunteers from about a dozen area churches and organizations take turns preparing and serving donated food. Members of the Maple View Baptist Church took charge yesterday.

"We cooked several batches of chili at home and then transported them to Presbury Church," said Shirley Patzschke, coordinator of the volunteer group.

"It's great to be able to help. I've really been psyched about this," she added, while preparing a tray of food in Presbury's kitchen.

Pride almost kept Richard Johnson, 26, and his girlfriend, Kathy Tolerica, 29, from sampling yesterday's fare.

They had known about the free lunch for about two weeks but were unsure of accepting it.

"My image of this place was more of street people and bag ladies and bare old tables," Mr. Johnson said.

"I just didn't expect this," he said, pointing to white tablecloths and colorful centerpieces created by Sunday school classes at Presbury church.

"And we certainly didn't expect to be served," he added, as Jane McKee, a Maple View volunteer, placed food in front of him.

Mr. Johnson lost his job as a dump truck driver and said he is ineligible for unemployment benefits because he was overpaid the last time he was laid off. A broken arm keeps Ms. Tolerica from working as a hairdresser.

Social Security benefits from her late husband pay Ms. Tolerica's bills, but there never seems to be enough money for food.

"There's definitely a need out there for services such as soup kitchens," said Larry Berardelli, Harford's social services director.

As the county grows in the midst of a weak economy, the number of people needing public assistance climbs steadily, he said.

Mr. Berardelli said 1,730 households in Harford County received food stamps in 1989. That number had increased by 83 percent in 1992, to 3,162, he said.

Myrtle Einhorn of Abingdon and Virginia Ball of Edgewood shared not only food yesterday but also companionship and conversation.

The two senior citizens met at The Sharing Table a few weeks ago and have become friends. Both agree that the soup kitchen is a marvelous idea.

"For us senior citizens on a fixed income, this place doesn't just mean good food, but it's also a place for companionship," Mrs. Einhorn said.

Her only worry is that the soup kitchen can't reach everyone who's hungry because the poor can't afford transportation.

"Taxi companies offer free rides to people who drink too much," she said. "Why can't they offer free rides to hungry people in need of a free meal?"

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