ROCK HILL, S.C. (AP) — Terry Thomas sat next to Rene Shepherd on Thursday at the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen. They sat at the last table against the wall, on the far end from where four volunteers served turkey and dressing, bread and tea, corn and cake.
They sat a week before Thanksgiving, the week that politicians somewhere decided was Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week. They were plenty aware. They need no proclamations. Thomas sat down to eat, and the only sound at the far end of the room was the growl of his stomach.
"I'm aware I was hungry, and this place has a heart for people like me," Thomas said.
Said Shepherd: "'Bout everybody in here in the same boat — they hungry or homeless or both. I got no home. Right now, I'm staying with friends. Got a son, a senior in high school. Thankfully, he is staying with his daddy."
All the food served at this place across from St. Mary's Catholic Church is donated. All the work during the almost 25 years the soup kitchen has flung open its doors to the hungry and homeless is done by volunteers from more than 20 churches and civic groups. There is no one week to pull in the hungry, no one week to be aware of the homeless. Six days a week, every week.
At the next table sat Bobby Tharpe. He lives for now at The Haven, a 14-bed shelter about a mile away. Tharpe said the soup kitchen meal might be all he eats some days. He applied for a job ringing the Salvation Army kettle bell between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"Five checks might get me on my feet," Tharpe said, referring to five paychecks. "Then I might not have to foot it."
"Foot it, walk," Tharpe said.
At the next table sat Jonah Smith and his girlfriend. They live in a mobile home. He works washing dishes. They pay the rent, the light bill, the water, and hope they have enough left to eat. They ate at the soup kitchen Thursday because they had nothing at home to eat.
At the next table sat Dianne Wooten and Terry Dunbar. Wooten has no home but found a room at a friend's house. Dunbar says he works as a custodian, $8 an hour, gets paid every two weeks.
"But if I can't get through all the bills, and at the end of the two weeks there isn't anything to eat. I come here," Dunbar said.
At the first table near the serving line sat Marie Crome. She ate and said she was thankful. Under her chair was a brown paper bag with groceries. The soup kitchen runs a food pantry, too. On the top of the bag of food, a volunteer put a bag of rice.
"Got three grandkids I'm raising. They got to eat," Crome said.
The four ladies finished up serving everyone who wanted to eat. They are Jennifer Lindemann of Fort Mill, Winthrop University student Katie Parker and Angela Fischesser and Jan Stephenson from Rock Hill's First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. The church has one Thursday a month to cook and serve. Not one week a year, but every month of every year.
"These people here need help from all of us, but on days when school is out, and the young kids come in here to eat, it just tears your heart out," Stephenson said.
A man named James Conyers III ate. He had two pieces of cake. He stays with a friend but has no permanent home. He said he did a stretch in jail but changed inside those walls and found God. He pulled from a backpack a sheath of copied fliers on plain white paper. The fliers stated he had his own business called "Silver Wings Labor Service."
Conyers' flier states he will do almost any work to make a buck. The flier gives 38 examples of chores he will do, including cut grass, rake leaves, clean gutters, clean bathrooms, sweep, dust, even dig holes.
"I want to work," Conyers said. "Most people in here do."
When Conyers finished eating what was his only meal Thursday, during Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, he readied to go out to give out flyers to try to make a buck to help himself.
He walked up to the four ladies at the serving line and caught their eyes.
He said, so all could hear, "I appreciate this. Thank you so very much."