Some tales are bigger than one individual. Such is the case with the seven-days-a-week venture to get one decent meal to those less fortunate than the average. By that, average means, those who can take care of their own basic needs. Less fortunate means many things. For those who fall into that category it can mean homelessness or a job that keeps them on a pay scale where they cannot afford food. One group of people has recognized this and labored, many of them for a quarter of a century, to see that one need is taken care of.

In Orange, six churches, work interactively to provide one noon meal each day of the week to those who are in need of it. “For many of these people we know this will be their only food until tomorrow,” emphasizes Glenda Lucia of St Mary church on 9th and Cherry Street, “We don’t ask that anyone show proof of their need. If they show up, they eat.” Glenda and her husband, Johnny, are the coordinators of the Wednesday meal that is served from their church’s facility.

St. Mary has been part of this soup kitchen for 25 years.

“We have four teams of different individuals that come and serve each Wednesday, and a fifth team for months that have five Wednesdays,” she continues. Glenda Lucia is quiet and quick to push away any glory for what is being accomplished through their efforts. For her it is about what needs to still be done. The food used in the program comes completely through donations and is not supported through church funding. That doesn’t mean members aren’t a large part of the donating process.

“We have ladies who bake cakes or have had groups with large leftovers from an event that donate goods to us. We have two freezers and two refrigerators.”

Volunteers get to know different patrons from week to week. They discover other needs they may have. “Two of our ladies discovered a man and his child desperately needed clothing. They went through their closets and gathered all they could and brought it. Sometimes we just set things out on the table and if any of them want it they will pick it up. We are not here to embarrass them, just to help.”

Recently, Orange Savings Bank President, Stephen Lee, challenged his employees to find ways to give back to the community. They were to look for ongoing projects. “I basically told them to answer two things; how long will the impact of the project last and what will be it’s legacy?”

With most of the co-workers being women, they decided to help the soup kitchen by baking cakes according to Jo Ann Gilbeaux, one of Lee’s employees.

From that simple offering has grown a lasting and much more involved venture for not only the ladies of Orange Savings but the president and his wife, Jamie Lee, as well.

Through this project “Gallons of Love” has been birthed. The term gallons is a reference to the size of industrial sized containers that the kitchen groups need to feed their 150 to 180 people for their one day. “It takes five gallons of green beans, sometimes more, for one meal,” adds Johnny Lucia, who prays over the meal with its recipients before service starts. The workers from Orange Savings also come and serve with a variety of other loyal regular volunteers. They are hoping other businesses will follow their lead. “We are all just one bad paycheck away from being in the same boat,” one volunteer adds.

“We don’t throw anything away,” Glenda follows up, “if we have anything left over that cannot be frozen or heated a second time, we will drop it off for tomorrow’s feeding at Mt. Olive Baptist, or First Presbyterian, who makes the meal on Tuesday may bring us something they had left.”

They also get donations in the form of Wal-mart cards from Orange County Probation because the soup kitchen provides community service work for those who are working off fines they couldn’t afford to pay.

Volunteers are there for many reasons. Only a handful of individuals are working off community service. Some have witnessed people trying to grab food from dumpsters, others want to pay back St. Mary volunteers who once fed them. Some just understand the need for volunteers such as Betty Harmon, former Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce president.

Not all are physical bodies that come to serve. There are those who make food and send it from their home.

DuPont recently started to collect change for donations.

St. Mary volunteers are just one small group from a single church. “I don’t know how the other churches fund their operations,” Lucia admits, “but we all count on the goodness of people to give of their time or substance.”

Restaurants closing have given their non-perishables. Project Graduation has donated leftovers. All it takes is creative thinking to realize anyone can make a difference. There are a hundred and one ways people can jump in to help.

“We have had youth groups come and help, or make special gift stockings for our folks at Christmas. Food is not the only thing we need, but it’s like a ripple effect. You don’t really realize when you do this who it touches,” says Lucia. “When they come here they feel like human beings. They want to come back. We talk to them, we respect them. All we expect of them is that they behave and they always have.”

There has been an increase in clients with the economic down turn. Locations and meal times are announced to people by word of mouth, none of it is advertised.

To get connected with a program that is filling a great human need contact any of the following churches: Monday meals, Mount Sinai Baptist on Second Street; Tuesday and Friday, First Presbyterian on Green Avenue; Wednesday, St Mary Catholic Church on the corner of Cherry Street and 9th; Thursday, Mount Olive Baptist on West Park; Saturday, Salem Methodist on West John; and Sunday is Trinity Lutheran on 16th Street.

It takes a city, it takes individuals, it takes us all to care.