The Hoke County Open Door Soup Kitchen began four years ago in the spring of 2015 on May 11th in a small, country town called Raeford, North Carolina. The soup kitchen is housed in a cottage home on 399 Oakdale Gin Road. It is a quiet, quaint little place that is bursting at the seams with love and compassion for the community and its people. Now, four years later, we are, on average, feeding 100 to 150 people per day. Although the soup kitchen applied for its 501(c)3 in 2019, it has been in operation, solely on donations since the doors opened to the community in 2015.
In the beginning, it was a slow start, but we had the drive, the motivation of need and the vision. We distributed about 20 meals per day for approximately four months. At that time, we owned one refrigerator and one deep freezer. Thanksgiving Day of 2015, we hosted our first Thanksgiving Dinner. We fed close to 40 people and handed out 30 to-go plates. The local newspaper, The News Journal covered our story and offered a detail explanation as to just what a soup kitchen was, and our serving numbers increased considerably.
In 2016, we began delivering hot meals door to door, through-out Hoke County, to approximately 150 people. Also, in 2016, we opened another location to serve from the inside a community store. There, we served an additional 45 to 60 plates a day. A little later that same year we were able to purchase our first delivery van, a 2000 Nissan Quest Van. It is a vehicle of many colors, many troubles, and a whole lot of heart. The Hoke County Open Door Soup Kitchen delivery van is unmistakably one of a kind. In 2017, we continued to grow in our small, cottage house, and as our serving numbers grew, our expenses grew with us. We could not seem to keep up, what with lack of funding, increasing bills, broken air conditioning unit, and over $300 of unexpected expenses. We needed help! So, we began to restructure some things to work smarter not harder. We called on the help of the community and began to set up feeding sites through- out the community. Establishing more feeding sites is part of our future endeavors. A couple of local churches have opened their doors as feeding sites where people can come and receive a hot meal and/or a bag of food.
Also, in 2017, we received a contract with Second Harvest Food Bank of Fayetteville, North Carolina to pick up food donations from three Food Lion Store locations on Saturday and Sunday. Each week, we receive an average of 2,000lbs of food from these stores. With these donations, we began our food pantry and distributed between 30 and 35 full food boxes each Sunday afternoon. As word of the soup kitchen spread, we began to see an increase in numbers, and we could see clearly the need for a soup kitchen. Thanksgiving that same year, with help of about 15 volunteers, the soup kitchen served over 200 Thanksgiving dinners to those in need and anyone that would just like a Thanksgiving meal.
Entering 2018 proved to be our largest increase in overall numbers. Our Food Lion Store donations increased to picking up food 7 days a week with a total of 11 donations a week. We now serve food boxes on Tuesdays and Sundays at around 30 boxes on Tuesdays and upwards 50 boxes on Sundays. We opened another food pantry location where food is given out 3 times and week and food deliveries are made once a week. Thanksgiving Day, we experienced our biggest Thanksgiving dinner give away at a whopping 752 plates with help of our local social services office. Also, in 2018, we partnered with the Marine Toys for Tots Program, as well as other community organizations in our county.
Over the past three years, the Hoke County Open Door Soup Kitchen has grown, a step here and a step there. We have put a lot of commitment, dedication, and gratifying work into the soup kitchen by sponsoring, for the first two years, a three on three basketball tournament, four bike rallies, and we even tried a plate sale during the first year, but quickly realized that we did not begin the soup kitchen to sell food rather to give it away to the less fortunate. The growth was gradual and significant. The soup kitchen grew from operating with two refrigerators to operating with two refrigerators and seven deep freezers. Beginning in 2017, we began to receive donations from sources in the community to include local attorneys, local food bank drives, the board of education, golf clubs, dialysis centers, boys and girls scouts clubs, and other small groups and churches. We have a passion for the children in our community and have targeted the impoverished mobile home parks in Hoke County to reach the children.
Here, at the Hoke County Open Door Soup Kitchen, we offer the community a soup kitchen that offers hot meals, a clothing pantry that has clothes for the whole family, and a food pantry that can provide a box of food for a family of four for 2 days or more. In the spring of 2016, with the help of the Girl Scouts, we planted a community garden to provide fresh vegetables. The members of the community were also welcome to come and plant any vegetable of their choice. The garden yielded a variety of vegetables, and even a couple of blueberry bushes, that were free for the taking. With the success of the community garden, we will incorporate it in future soup kitchen locations. We currently give away 7 to 8,000lbs of food per month to those in need.
As we have outgrown our present location, our goal is to expand to occupy a larger building in order to serve more of the Hoke county community as the population, rapidly, continues to grow. We desire a building that would provide more office space, a larger kitchen area, sufficient storage, a spacious dining area, and sufficient space for a clothing pantry. We would offer a children’s café that would serve nutritious foods and Zumba classes to children and adults to combat obesity in the community. Our long term goal is to develop shelters for homeless individuals, veterans, and families to give them a sense of security, safety, and a hand up in society. Our ultimate goal is that everyone is provided basic needs in order to thrive, that they need not wonder where their next meal is coming from or where they shall lay their head at the day’s end.