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Soup Kitchen exemplifies corporal work of mercy

By RENEE WEBB, Globe senior reporter
(Email Renee)

Feeding the hungry.

It’s a corporal work of mercy and something that’s done six days a week in Sioux City at The Soup Kitchen.

Father Mike Erpelding, pastor at St. Boniface and St. Joseph Parishes, said the kitchen serves the evening meal Monday through Friday and a noon meal on Saturday.

“It’s steady. It’s always available,” he said.

The Soup Kitchen is governed by a board of directors with oversight by the Diocese of Sioux City. The books are cared for out of St. Boniface Church that were set up in the articles of incorporation.

The Catholic community in Sioux City has played a big role in feeding the hungry.

“It has its roots in St. Joseph Parish,” noted Father Erpelding. “And even further back, there was a Catholic Worker House that was run by the Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque.”

After it came under the auspices of St. Boniface, he pointed out that then-pastor Father Don Ries, set it up as an ecumenical group.

Father Erpelding said the board’s president, Gordy Lebowich, always says no one in this town will go hungry.

“No one is turned away. There is never a charge,” he said. “Anybody who wanted to eat can go there. The only thing that will keep you out is if you are disruptive or intoxicated.”

Three paid part-time workers run the kitchen with the help of numerous volunteers.

Evelyn Marsh, manager of the kitchen, noted the facility could not run without volunteers. Marsh does most of the food prep Monday through Friday and Deacon Joe Twidwell of Dakota Dunes, S.D. heads up the effort on Saturdays.

She thinks she will retire in two years. She’ll be 80 then. But Marsh has thought about retiring before and it hasn’t happened because she doesn’t know what she would do with herself.

“I was going to retire at 70 and then at 75, now it’s 80,” she said. “I just think I would be depressed and sad if I wasn’t here. This is my social life.”

Shirley Nichols, a parishioner at St. Boniface, has been volunteering about four times a year for several years.

She said the group from St. Boniface is one of many groups who volunteer on a regular basis.

“When you have a good life, you need to give back,” said Nichols.

In addition to the volunteers, Father Erpelding said there are many individuals and businesses who make donations – food and monetary – that allow The Soup Kitchen to operate.

“A few years ago a generous donor, D.A. Davis, purchased a building and remodeled it for our needs at his cost in honor of his parents when we lost our lease from the Salvation Army,” he said. “We are very grateful for his generous gift.”

After witnessing the generosity of many, Nichols added that the people “are able to eat very well.”

While acquiring food is not really a problem, Father Erpelding said the agency must have a letter writing campaign and rely on the generosity of the people in the community to supply the needs like upkeep of the building, utilities and to pay the three part-time workers. He acknowledged that all of the Sioux City parishes take up a collection for The Soup Kitchen. Donations of food and money are accepted at all times of the year.

Marsh said during Lent, St. Michael Parish in Sioux City donates their leftover salads and desserts from their fish dinners.

Monetary donations may be sent to: The Soup Kitchen of Siouxland, c/o St. Boniface Church, 703 W. 5th St., Sioux City, IA 51103. The organization is a 501(c)3.

“For anyone who wants to help the poor, this is very straight forward because the people who come here are poor,” said Father Erpelding. “They are in need and we provide what they need. There is very little bureaucracy and very little administrative costs.”

Marsh said at the first part of the month about 50 eat daily at The Soup Kitchen, but by the end of the month when the money and food stamps are running out, there may be 90 to 100 daily.

While it serves mainly men, there are women and children. Marsh explained there are not as many families during the school year, as the children eat meals at school and then they go to Boys or Girls Club and receive snacks.

The Soup Kitchen, Marsh said, provides more than just food.

“It offers friendship, socializing, somewhere to get out of the cold or heat,” she said. “There are some sad cases – they are lonesome. Sometimes when they come for the first time they are quiet and bashful but if you make them feel welcome, they come out of it.”

They get big crowds for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. The Soup Kitchen’s Christmas meal this year will be Dec. 18. A group from St. Mary’s in Remsen helps out every year.

Father Erpelding tries to eat there once a week to be one with the people and get to know his neighbors. Many of those who eat at the soup kitchen live in the area of St. Boniface.

“Jesus says that no one is to go hungry,” Father Erpelding said. “If your brother or sister is hungry, you are to feed them and we take that to heart. This is a mission that we can be involved in and we can also walk hand-in-hand with our Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, Orthodox and non-believer friends. They are all welcome to eat there and all welcome to help us.”


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