By LAURA NIELSEN
ATLANTA — A Catholic Church on Martin Luther King Drive offers not a dream, but a soup lunch and sweet tea every Saturday to any and all homeless people nearby.
The Shrine of Immaculate Conception provides lunch for 400-500 homeless people. The main dish for the Saturday lunch is soup with cornbread. Eggrolls or pizza bites are among the other foods offered. When the homeless men and women are on their way out the door, they are given sandwiches to take with them, donated from various churches.
The Factory church of Woodstock, Georgia, commits to the first Saturday of each month to provide sandwiches and service for the homeless people of Atlanta. According to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ statewide homeless count, over 4,000 people are homeless and hungry on any given day in Atlanta.
Fifteen people gathered at The Factory in Woodstock, Sept. 11, and created a peanut butter and jelly sandwich assembly line. Fifty-four loaves of bread and one hour later, 540 sandwiches were ready for the Saturday trek to Atlanta.
Saturday morning was filled with excitement, prayer, and instruction before driving to the city. Twenty-three people, some new and many experienced, met at The Factory to caravan to Atlanta to feed the homeless. Age did not stop the church members in being a part of this mission work. Toddlers as young as 3 years old and gentlemen enjoying their retirement joined together to serve the homeless and branch out in this ministry.
“It’s chaos but it’s organized,” said Tom Hill, a leader of the compassion team at The Factory. “They (The Shrine) have a system down there and you’ll be surprised how fast 400-500 people get through the line.”
The system is indeed productive. The doors open at exactly 10 a.m. and the first line of people come in the door and take a seat around a table. Once everyone is seated, the volunteers get busy. Soup bowls are filled from multiple containers and ladles, sweet tea pitchers and coffee pots empty out and are refilled just as quickly.
Once a homeless person is done with his meal, he takes the soup bowl to the washing area, picks up a bag of donated bread, and is given a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to eat when they get hungry later in the day. During the colder months, clean socks and underwear will be available for the homeless men and women. Also, upon donation, blankets will be given to them to keep warm.
One gentleman, who has been a part of this mission work since 1997, devotes every Saturday morning to serve the homeless in Atlanta:
“It’s about giving something back,” said Dr. Lawrence Bynum. “A great majority are African American [homeless] guys down there. As I was going, I noticed that the people that were helping were Caucasian. And I said ‘There’s something not right about this, you know?’ Here are all these African American guys out here that are homeless and all the people that are helping them are Caucasian. So, I dedicated my life to do this and I needed to give something back.”
Volunteers who have been serving the homeless for a long time welcome new faces who are ready to serve. A hungry homeless person eating until he or she is full is not the only element that occurs during this time of giving back to the community. The idea that homeless people are cynical can be changed when serving them at the soup lunch.
“There are a lot of negative stereotypes about homeless people that you find out aren’t true,” said Jala Norman. “They are a lot more approachable than you think. They look scary on the street but they aren’t like that.”