|The Idaho Falls Soup Kitchen will celebrate 30 years of with a June 30 open house.|
— Matthew 13:31-32
If you took all the meals the Idaho Falls Soup Kitchen has served in the past 30 years and put them all together, you would have enough food for the entire population of Columbus, Ohio, the 15th largest city in the United States.
Originally known as St. Mark’s Christian Sandwich Kitchen, the idea for the a soup kitchen came into being when two members of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Joanne Galbraith and Lois Greenwood, of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church were driving home from a hunger conference in Boise, discussing what they could do to alleviate hunger in the community. They started in the church basement with a coffee pot and hotplate and a $500 loan from Idaho’s Episcopal Bishop, The Rev. David B. Birney. Church members and friends pitched in to help, and before long the word was out that a person could get a free lunch on South Boulevard.
In the first 18 months, 1,805 meals were served, on weekends. Today, in the Community Outreach Center, next door to where St. Mark’s was, the Soup Kitchen is open every day, serving an average of 4,700 per month.
In all, between June 1985 and May 2015, the official count of total meals served was 826,526.
“One thing we have never done is ask people questions about why they were there,” said Graeme Galbraith, another early volunteer. “There were people who were there out of necessity, and there were some people who made a social occasion of it,” he said. “It has been a total volunteer effort since the beginning.”
Support from the community has been broad, and sometimes surprising. Galbraith said there was a couple that ate at the Soup Kitchen frequently for a few months (he could not remember their name) then made a generous donation once they were back on their feet.
The average cost of a meal served at the Soup Kitchen is $1. There are trained teams of volunteers for every day of the year, and about 800 people help at the Soup Kitchen each year.
It takes between $60,000 to $65,000 a year to keep the Soup Kitchen in operation. About 20 percent of the lunches it serves comes from donations of food from individuals, food drives, companies and organizations in the community. About 5 percent is Federal Emergency Management Agency commodities distributed by the Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership. The rest, approximately $45,000, is purchased with the cash contributions from individuals, churches, businesses and service organizations.
The Soup Kitchen facility is provided by the Community Outreach Center at no cost, but it takes money to buy cleaning, equipment, maintenance services, phones and insurance.
“Some of our local businesses have gone above and beyond to help out,” said Kaaren Parsons, who coordinates the ministry for St. Luke’s Episcopal Chuch (St. Mark’s and St. John’s merged to form St. Luke’s in 2001). Parsons wished to extend special recognition to Doug’s Meats, Rush’s Kitchen Supply, Brady’s, Smith’s, Mathew’s Plumbing, Sunrise Cleaning and Mike Beckstead.