Mount Vernon soup kitchen serves final meal

Saturday night meal program for needy ends

December 25, 2010|By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

As diners arrived for the last free meal at Carpenter's Kitchen, Caroleann Myers stood by the entrance, hugging regulars with outstretched arms as if she were greeting them into her own home for Christmas dinner.

But a ritual that spanned more than two decades was coming to an end. The program that served a hot meal each week at the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church to about 300 of the city's needy was shutting down, despite the efforts of Myers, the program's director.

"Miss Caroleann was always there. No matter what you looked like, she always gave you a hug," said Michael Preston, who had been eating at Carpenter's Kitchen since its first days in 1986.

The church council decided to end the program in order to attract a daycare center or school that would provide revenue for the congregation, which has struggled with lower attendance and fewer donations.

Myers said she looked for another venue, but has been unable to find one that would not charge rent.

Carpenter's Kitchen had been known as one of the few programs in the city that would offer hot meals on the weekends, when nearly all other soup kitchens are closed.

On Saturday, Myers took her spot at the dining room entrance, where she greeted and helped seat guests, as several volunteers rushed from the kitchen with trays of steaming plates of greens, sweet potatoes and ham. Occasionally she was called off to fetch plastic wrap or defuse a fight between guests.

As people were seated around tables covered in plastic tablecloths and small Christmas trees, servers rushed to refill foam cups of coffee or hot chocolate. Most guests were men, but a few families with children were there, too.

"It's a very sad moment," Preston said as a volunteer played "O Come, All Ye Faithful" on a piano in the corner.

He said that "a lot of people depend on this spot to get together to eat on Saturday." Until recently, Preston, 42, had been the one who was served, but on Saturday he was serving others. He's found stable housing, but worries where others will be without this meal service.

"It's not just one type of person here," he said. "Some are homeless, some have homes but are barely making it. There's a void now."

Quinton Hagan, 40, returned for the last meal.

Hagan was homeless for five years as he battled a drug addiction, but went to Carpenter's each week for dinner. About two years ago, he left Baltimore and is studying construction engineering at a community college in Florida.

"I just woke up one day and left. I wanted a change and moved to Florida," Hagan said. He returned to Baltimore to see his family when he heard about Carpenter's Kitchen closing.

"I got so upset when I heard they were shutting down," he said."I haven't even seen my family yet," Hagan said, but "came to have dinner," one last time.

"I'm sorry I can't do anything to keep it going," he said.

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