When you are feeding between 50-150 people each week,
every donation you receive is a blessing.

On May 22, volunteers from the Campbell AME Church came with a humble grocery list,
and left with their hearts (and carts) full.

For the past 10 years, the Campbell AME Church on 104 King Street East, Chatham, have offered bagged lunches through their soup kitchen program. Their small but mighty team of volunteers know that hunger does not take a holiday, so every week they are prepping meals in the church kitchen.

As one of Chatham-Kent’s emergency food relief programs, May 16 Miracle had tapped them on the shoulder to stop by the Thames Campus Arena to pick up food and supplies needed to stock their pantry. When Sandy Gouelt and Lorraine Young arrived, they came prepared with a pick-up truck and a list of supplies that were in high demand. To help them collect supplies they recruited fellow soup kitchen volunteers Ralph Lebonte and Terry Shadd, and some volunteers from United Way of Chatham-Kent.


Photo: United Way of Chatham-Kent's TJ Johnston greeting Sandy Gouelt and Lorraine Young as they get ready to stock their soup kitchen shelves at Campbell AME Church.

Some boxes of crackers, a few cans of fruit, an armload of granola bars, their cart is just slightly full as they started walking the perimeter. At first the ladies were modestly selecting only what was needed in the next few weeks. As they stood in an arena stocked with skids of food; it took a bit of encouragement to realize that all this food was donated to help programs like theirs and other emergency food providers. Soon they were filling their carts not just with 5 boxes of crackers but 5 cases of crackers.

Photo: Sandy going through the baking supplies table to find items from her list.

The fun really started to happen when Sandy, a trained pastry chef, found the area that housed the baking supplies. Like a kid in a candy store, she started to fill her cart with pounds of flour, sugar, icing and more. Her mind bursting with the options now available as a special treat in the weekly lunches. “I normally have to pay out of pocket for all the supplies that I use to make the baked goods,” said Sandy. “It gets really expensive sometimes.” The volunteer is able to cross many things off her list and adding new items as recipes pop in her head. Sandy holds up cans of crushed pineapple, she notes that they are perfect for making pineapple squares.

Photo: Larry (left) & Ralph (right) pop the tail gate to show one of the truck loads.

Ralph is the resident soup master. He not only helps make soup for Campbell AME but for other groups who deliver hot meals to the homeless. His cart was stocked with cases of soup, broth and goodies that would turn his pots of soup into bowls of comfort. “This is a blessing. Everyone here is so kind, and encouraging us to take more.” Double checking the list he is crossing off all the items he wished would be available.

Terry and the United Way Volunteer were constantly back & fourth across the arena as cart after cart; they not only filled one pick-up truck - but two! The soup kitchen used to worry about sticking to their budget. Now their biggest worry is where they are going to store their cases food & supplies. In what used to be a spare bedroom the volunteers are helping to stack flats of snack bars, cereal, easy prep sided dishes and more. With what they were able to collect the crew is estimating that they have enough to carry them for six months or more.

Tired, and a bit overwhelmed at the amount of food collected, the group reflects on their morning. Lorraine sits beside a case of prepackaged salt and peppershakers. A simple donation that carries a big impact. “It’s one of my jobs to refill the salt and pepper each week. Most of our shakers don’t match anymore, have gone missing or looking pretty beat up. Having these will save me so much time that I can now do other things in the kitchen.”

Since the volunteer's experience on May 22nd the team received an additional 7 skids of food to distribute to individuals and families needing some help stocking their cupboards. Through word of mouth, people were told to visit the Campbell AME church basement the morning of June 3rd. The location was prepped for social distancing and offering a grocery shopping experience.

When individuals arrived they were handed 3 grocery bags which they could fill with whatever items they may need from cleaning supplies to food. In no time, the once fully stocked tables were bare. The most popular items were cereal and Kraft Dinner. For individuals who were not able to grab the supplies they needed that morning should not have to wait long. Volunteers from United Way and the May 16 Miracle team were able to quickly load up an additional 4 skids of food for an early afternoon delivery.

"People were appreciative that their neighbours were looking out for their well being." said Sandy. "I have personally delivered food to people and sometimes the ones who are suffering are the ones you would least expect."

If you or someone you know are needing help with basic needs such as food, 211 is there for you. They will connect you with local Chatham-Kent groups, like Campbell AME, who are doing amazing things to help their community.