SIOUX CITY, Iowa — On a recent Wednesday afternoon at the Siouxland Soup Kitchen, manager Evelyn Marsh took a moment to talk about her career.
During the conversation, a woman entered the dining hall and offered up some desserts. The conversation paused.
“Hey, I just came from our golf luncheon, and I have a big box of lemon bars that are leftover,” the woman said.
“We’d love it,” Marsh said of the lemon squares.
Thus arrived another food donation to the Soup Kitchen, which relies partly on people giving away excess food from parties, luncheons and the like.
Food donations, random or planned, will probably be a part of the Soup Kitchen for a long time. But Marsh’s role there will soon draw to a close.
Marsh is retiring Aug. 30, citing age and her health as reasons for leaving the job she has held for 25 years.
A typical meal at the Soup Kitchen consists of “whatever comes in, or whatever we have,” Marsh told the Sioux City Journal .
On a recent Wednesday night, the dinner was roast pork, potatoes, sandwiches, baked beans, fresh fruit and desserts.
Over the years the Soup Kitchen has transitioned to larger and more diverse meals, Marsh said. That happened because of increasing donations, such as meat from Tyson.
“I think when the Soup Kitchen first started, it was mainly soup and sandwiches,” she said. “And then as other people became aware of it, they started contributing better things.”
At the beginning of any given month, Marsh said, the Soup Kitchen serves about 40 or 50 people.
“As the month goes on, and people are running out of food and money, we might hit close to 90 a night,” she said.
The biggest challenge Marsh faces at the Soup Kitchen has to do with “discipline in the dining room.” At times, Marsh has to act as intermediary when diners don’t get along.
“Usually if I just talk to them,” Marsh said. “Or, shove them out. You just do what you have to.”
Episodes of unruly diners is something she has come to expect, at least once in a while.
“Monday night, we had two disturbances in here,” she said. “Women coming to blows.”
One of the women who was involved in that disturbance came back to eat the following night. Marsh approached her.
“I said, ‘I want you to know, I’m not putting up with none of that tonight,'” Marsh said. “She looked at me, and she said, ‘That was my twin.'”
“I said, ‘You know something, you smell just like your twin — alcohol.'”
Even though there is a sign on the entrance to the Soup Kitchen expressly barring visitors who have been drinking or are on drugs, the message goes unheeded at times.
“There’s always a problem; alcohol is the main problem,” she said. “My philosophy is, if they come in and sit down and eat, and don’t cause any trouble, no matter how drunk or high they are — that’s what they need is food.”
But despite having to act as an intermediary for the odd personal problem between diners, Marsh said she likes to talk to them.
“I’m always aware of a new face, and I try to make them feel welcome, because some when they come in are very shy,” she said. “I’ve made a lot of friends.”
A day’s work at the Soup Kitchen for Marsh begins at noon, when she arrives and gets everything lined up and ready for the two or three afternoon volunteers, who arrive at 2 p.m.
Marsh and the volunteers then prepare the evening’s meal, and six to eight volunteers serve the meals beginning at 5:15.
The roster of volunteers is quite large, she said, because the volunteers of a given night are rotated on a three-month basis, meaning Wednesday night’s six or eight servers might not come back until November.
Most of the volunteers are affiliated with churches, Marsh said, and some come from out of town to help.
Even after she leaves the Soup Kitchen late in August and a new manager is hired, she probably won’t be gone permanently.
“You know, (I hope to) fill in when the new person is sick or on vacation or wants a day off,” she said.
At the moment, that new person remains to-be-determined, but potential replacements are being interviewed.
Josh Lebowich, president of the board of the Siouxland Soup Kitchen, said that Marsh’s absence will be felt.
“She’s a staple, she’s a staple of the Soup Kitchen community,” Lebowich said. “She’s like brick and mortar.”
Lebowich added he’s hoping Marsh’s replacement will be a reliable, long-term ‘staple’ of the Soup Kitchen, just like she has been.
“Evelyn cares about every single person who walks in that Soup Kitchen,” Lebowich said. “So that was one of the things that we were looking for in her replacement.”
Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Sioux City Journal.