The slow crunch of tires over thin gravel outside is a familiar sound to the team at The Kitchen, signaling hungry people await. Like the lead anchor leg in a relay race, they keep running, steadily and swiftly packing hot meals, and stacking grocery bags high on distribution tables chock full of fresh produce and snacks.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, over 100 cars start to line up an hour early around the old S&R Catfish building off Highway 157 to pick up meals between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Here lies the area’s only soup kitchen, the Church of Christ (COC) Food Pantry in Moulton, Alabama.
It’s a new Christian Appalachian Project (CAP) Operation Sharing partner agency this year, recently receiving around 26 pallets of water, Gatorade, snacks, cleaning supplies, and furniture for local families.
Director Lashundra Craig founded COC Food Pantry, called The Kitchen, in her hometown in 2005. “I hate for anyone to go hungry,” Craig said.
“I got my own 501(c)3 because there was such a need for a food pantry here,” Craig said. “I didn’t think I could do it and I didn’t have the money to file for it.”
She gathered a few friends and family to help and pulled some money together. Her brother, Marcus Echols, has been instrumental in its success. “Now that we have a soup kitchen, we have 25 volunteers and can offer hot meals,” Craig said.
She found a building, used items from her garden and anything she could get, and opened. “I had to really explain the soup kitchen concept at first, but then people said, ‘we really need this here!’” Craig exclaimed.
Craig manages a very tight budget, with some monetary contributions but mostly in-kind donations. She works six days a week with no salary at the pantry where the pantry operates rent free except for utilities.
In 2018, the local extension office helped her establish a community garden behind the soup kitchen, which Echols manages. It provides fresh produce and helps residents learn to grow their own food.
During the pandemic, The Kitchen became a drive-thru pantry. It continues to serve the rural communities of Lawrence and Morgan Counties, located in the Southern Subregion of Appalachian.
The various donations provided through Operation Sharing are distributed in the community. In their most recent delivery they received food, cleaning supplies, and furniture. Community members pick up food through the drive-thru pantry line while cleaning supplies are used at the pantry to reduce overhead costs. Some supplies go to low-income family who may not be able to afford these items. Some of the furniture goes to transitional housing for elderly inmates as they reenter society.
The elderly and children make up a large part of the community. “There are few affordable grocery options here. Many of our elderly receive just $16 in food stamps a month,” she said. So, there is a lot for staff to do. They also donate meals to the area’s homeless population.
Craig appreciates the donors and volunteers who help The Kitchen. “At first I felt like I was begging people for help with the soup kitchen. But I realized you’re asking for other people who can’t ask for themselves,” she said. “It is impossible for one person to do this alone.”
Visit the Facebook group page COC FOOD PANTRY for more information.
Christian Appalachian Project’s Operation Sharing Program partners with over 1,300 nonprofit organizations, community-based agencies, churches, and schools across all 13 Appalachian states, as well as Arkansas and Missouri, to collect and deliver donated goods throughout Appalachia. In nearly 40 years, Operation Sharing has delivered more than $2 billion worth of donated materials to more than 1.5 million people. For more information visit christianapp.org/operation-sharing.
Story by Shannon Holbrook.