Kari McCleskey prevents splatters with aluminum foil as Devon Wells pours the first pot of soup into the warmer.
Photo by Andy Towle.
Students didn’t serve up many calories at the second annual Awareness Soup Kitchen, but they dished up plenty of startling facts about the homeless and hungry in the community.
Organizers of the dinner hoped participants would walk away after two tiny servings with an appreciation for a growing number of residents and students who go every day without a full meal.
“I am so excited to see high school kids have a vision for such an event and for helping out those in need,” said Roger Kreimeyer, chair of the Payson Area Food Drive (PAFD). “Hunger does not discriminate.”
Increasingly, statistics show residents are relying more on local food banks after either losing their jobs or working fewer hours. From October through December, more than 133,800 pounds of food filled 7,475 requests for aid, said Wayne Parent, manager of the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank.
In the Payson Unified School District (PUSD), more than 50 percent of students are on free lunch with another 7 percent on reduced lunch.
With such a high demand for food, students in Shelly Camp’s resource English class organized a soup kitchen hoping to make people hungry — sort of a quasi soup line. Through a Learn and Serve Arizona grant, English students worked with student government, culinary arts and applied math students on the project. Students planned the dinner, shopped for the food and prepared it.
Standing behind three large crock-pots of soup, students said the goal of the bread line was not to fill guests up, but to bring awareness to the feeling of being hungry.
Students ladled out two small bowls of soup to each person that paid $2 to go through the line, along with a glass of punch. All of the money was donated to the PAFD.
The Italian wedding, chicken tortilla and corn chowder soups, prepared by intermediate culinary arts students, were tasty, but they left diners hungry with small portions rather than full servings.
Student organizers said many Rim Country residents feel hungry all the time, and for local food banks, trying to feed them is a growing challenge.
This winter alone, two local food banks reported a record increase in demand. With such a tax on services, the 12-week Payson Area Food Drive is vital, said Roger Kreimeyer, chair of the food drive. In all, the food drive raised some 55,000 pounds of food and $25,000.
For those who rely on the food bank (there is no soup kitchen in town) getting one meal a day is a blessing.
To support the food drive, send a check to the PAFD, P.O. Box 703, Payson, AZ 85547 or drop food off at either the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank, 511 S. St. Phillips or Community Presbyterian Church Food Bank, 800 W. Main St.