The rain was falling hard but the spirits of about 30 volunteers and coordinators were high as they prepared for the opening of the Campbell Church Soup Kitchen.
It's the first soup kitchen in Bluffton, joining three others on Hilton Head Island, started within the past year thanks to the Hunger and Homeless Coalition. The local nonprofit coalition works with churches and local organizations to provide food and shelter for those in need. It plans to open another soup kitchen in late January or early February on Hilton Head.
The kitchens are run by volunteers and provide a few hot dishes, loaves of bread, and fruits and vegetables for homeless, low-income or just plain hungry people.
"We don't turn anyone away," said volunteer trainer Freddie Hodges, dubbed "the soup kitchen queen" by fellow coordinator Linda Ellis.
Grateful Hearts Soup Kitchen at Holy Family Catholic Church, the first kitchen opened by the coalition, served 18 people at its inaugural lunch, Hodges said, and now serves 80 to 100 people on Wednesdays and 40 to 60 on Mondays. Some of the same people can be seen at every location throughout the week.
At Wednesday's opening of the Campbell Church Soup Kitchen, Phyllis Johnson and Elizabeth Brown got plates wrapped for takeout piled with cornbread, homemade macaroni and cheese, and salad. As they waited for the rain to slow, they couldn't resist a few bites.
Both came from shelling oysters at Bluffton Oyster Co., where workers are paid by the gallon of shelled oysters and workers set their own schedules, according to co-owner Tina Toomer.
The women made a point to come when they heard their friend Katie Givens was head chef.
"Katie," Johnson said between bites, "can cook."
In all, six people came to eat. Hodges and Ellis had hoped for more but attributed the dreary weather and the newness of the service to the lower turnout.
Ida Martin, founder of Bluffton Self Help, hopes to reverse that.
"I'm going to get fliers in Spanish," she said. "This is about getting the word out and getting people together."
The soup kitchens get food from Bluffton Self Help and volunteer donations, Ellis said.
"It has created bonds with different types of people," Hodges said. "It's a beautiful thing that happens when you serve others."
Follow reporter Anne Christnovich at twitter.com/BlufftonBlogIP.