DARBY, PA (March 18, 2019) – It’s almost lunchtime at The Salvation Army’s Darby Corps Community Center and that means all hands on deck for today’s community meal.
“I added some apples and carrots for a little color, make it a little sweet,” said Ely Thomas, a full-time volunteer, as he put the finishing touches on the salad.
Ely and a two other volunteers are responsible for running the soup kitchen, which provides a fresh lunch daily to dozens of local residents who may otherwise go without.
“I know the neighborhood and I live in the neighborhood,” Ely said. “I get people in here who work but only have enough money to pay rent, so they come and get something to eat. Many in the community are homeless and may have an addiction. I try to give them something that is going to nourish their bodies. We get women with children when the food stamps run out towards the end of the month,” he explained.
The corps is located in Darby Borough in Delaware County. High poverty rates and little job growth have plagued this community of 11,000 people, five miles southwest of downtown Philadelphia, for many years.
The Salvation Army’s Darby Corps relies on a small but mighty team of volunteers to run its feeding operation. Working with a shoestring budget, Ely stocks the kitchen with low-cost ingredients for hundreds of meals each month. They also get some help through corporate partnerships with organizations like Wawa, BJ’s and KFC.
“No one should be going without food,” said Major Sharon Cupp, Corps Officer, The Salvation Army’s Darby Corps Community Center. “I hope that when they leave our building, they know all of these services were done from our heart and with Christian love.”
The Salvation Army is committed to addressing food insecurity across Greater Philadelphia. According to a 2017 report by Feeding America, more than 20-percent of Philadelphians are “food insecure,” meaning they often lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. That’s nearly one in four people in Philadelphia, including thousands of children who go hungry every day.
“This is my community,” said Ely. “Whatever they’re struggling with, I’m struggling with. Whenever they’re happy, I’m happy.”
27-year old Kyheem knows what it’s like to go without. He was 18, homeless and looking for a hot meal when he first walked through the doors of the Darby Corps. Kyheem says the physical and emotional nourishment he received from The Salvation Army changed his life. He’s working now and has been back on his feet for some time, but still comes back from occasionally to visit the corps and express his gratitude.
“Ely is a beautiful person. He always puts a smile on other people’s faces,” said Kyheem.
The line of hungry clients started to grow as the lasagna was brought out to the dining area. Ely greeted them one by one with words of encouragement while he filled up their plates with pasta and salad. The day is far from over. There’s always more cooking to do and more people to feed. The need in this community is great, but The Salvation Army remains a beacon of hope.