Olive Garden’s involvement come a day after a traditional turkey dinner that was served Wednesday evening at the soup kitchen as members of the Central Christian Church prepared about 300 meals. .
Frederick Stegner, president of the Springfield Soup Kitchen, said this time of year is particularly special for his organization since they began operations at there current location on Thanksgiving day in 2011.
He said it is also crucial to provide support this time of year as the weather cools down and can be dangerous for those who do not have shelter.
The soup kitchen is normally opened Mondays and Wednesdays and provides on average 250 meals a day, Stegner said. However, they’ve had to adjust their hours of operation and how they deliver meals because of the pandemic, he said.
The soup kitchen close briefly in March 2020. However, it soon resumed operations due to being deemed an essential service.
“We continued to serve hot meals because people would not eat if we are not there, especially those that can’t cook for themselves,” Stegner said.
In an effort to keep the staff and guests safe, they shut their dining room, and prepared to-go meals via food trucks, he said. But that was short-lived because of rising costs, Stegner said. The soup kitchen resumed preparing and cooking their own meals, but continued with the takeout service. That remained up until August of this year, when the soup kitchen reopened its dining area.
More people are gradually coming back inside, though the takeout option still remains. But Stegner said that it is important to be able to host people as the weather gets colder and some don’t have a place to stay.
The county saw a spike in homeless people last year as the economic impacts of the pandemic set in.
Interfaith Hospitality, which provides services to the homeless, had to shutdown its two congregant shelters in the county due to pandemic related safety concerns. Instead, alternative forms of emergency shelter, such as hotel and motel rooms, have been used.
The demand for emergency shelter also spiked starting last year leading to the creation of a waiting list for those services for the first time in over a decade.
Stegner said that for those not in emergency shelter, there have been an effort to handout sleeping bags, blankets and other needed supplies by the soup kitchen as well as other community organizations.
Marc Lloyd, with Central Christian Church, said that his church’s outreach efforts usually increase during the winter months. That includes not only making sure people get food, but cold weather gear and personal hygiene products and other supplies.
In addition to providing and cooking meals for the soup kitchen this week, members of the church will also be distributing food on Friday outside the Hampton Inn on Leffel Lane.
The church will be using a recently acquired food trailer to distribute those meals. It will also allow them to be more mobile in their food outreach.
Those that will be served on Friday, include members of the community that are utilizing emergency shelter services.