As Culpeper’s only soup kitchen, Culpeper Presbyterian Church’s Manna Ministry has their hands full and that’s just how they like it.
“We like to feel busy,” said ministry volunteer Waverly Lee. “We like to feel like (that because) it's needed.”
Found on South Main Street, Manna Ministry prepares, cooks and provides free lunch to anyone in need on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11-12:30 p.m.
No signups. No qualifications. Only first names, if guests choose to share.
“They’re just good people, every single one of them,” Lee said. “Just down on their luck.”
According to business manager of the church Barb Jenkins, the ministry averages between 100 and 120 meals per day three days a week. By the end of September, volunteers had served just under 9,000 meals in 2022.
After cutting Monday service due to lack of volunteers, it sparked back up again six months ago.
Getting the word out about the Monday service was challenging as only about 60 people would show up to be served, but things slowly hve ticked back up.
“I definitely wouldn’t say it's slow anymore,” Lee said. “The word is out and that’s good.”
Their busiest days have notoriously been Wednesdays. More recently on Oct. 12, 150 meals were served.
During service on Nov. 7, the kitchen ran out of food and had to turn pivot twice to fulfill the ongoing need for food as there still remained about 30 minutes of service time. Lee said running out of food rarely happens, with the most recent time last month.
“We want to accommodate them if we can,” Lee said.
Started in 2004, the ministry’s long range vision, Jenkins said, is to serve a meal to those in need on a daily basis at the Culpeper Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall, but they have been serving prepared meals curb-side in recent years.
Since switching to take-out only, costs have soared, Lee said, due to the uptick in paper and plastic products.
Costs for distribution supplies such as food containers, plastic ware, bags can average $600 to $700 per month on top of our food costs of approximately $2,000 per month, Jenkins said.
“We have experienced a 17% increase in the cost per meal this year due to the rising food and distribution costs,” she explained. “These costs exist even with the much-appreciated food donations we receive from local businesses and our church congregation.”
As with other nonprofits, the last couple of years have recognized a decrease in financial contributions from the community, she continued, even as Manna has seen an increase in the needs of the community.
“There definitely seems to be more of a need since Covid,” Lee said. “Money is tight. Groceries are expensive. Everything is so expensive so we're seeing more new faces.”
All walks of life come to the doors of Manna Ministry, Lee said, adding families and single people of all ages come to be served.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, meals were served inside by volunteer servers. Guests had to sit down to have their meal, giving them an opportunity to socialize.
“Now that we're just serving from the door, we really don’t have that same opportunity to get to know people,” Lee said. “When you’re in the kitchen, like I'm in the kitchen, I don’t get the chance to see anybody and I definitely miss that because…I miss the camaraderie part of it.”
Despite talking with volunteers, guests were only known on first-name basis due to privacy.
Lee understands guests may prefer being served curb-side if they need to go back to work or simply choose to remain private about their needs.
The ministry relies on contributions and the help of area grocery stores and restaurants that donate meat, bread and pastries.
“It takes a lot of people,” Lee said about the collaboration needed to make the ministry a success. “There are a lot of moving parts.”
With the holidays on the horizon, Thanksgiving and Christmas are some of their busiest times because children are out of school, increasing the number of meals needing to be prepared.
“I think every one of our guests is very appreciative, so I know that it's doing some good,” Lee said.
“What I love about the whole ministry is that so many people in the community benefit from it, not just our guests but our volunteers,” Lee said.
The ministry is always looking for volunteers and contributions. Those interested in helping, should contact the ministry at 540-825-8616.