TRINITY—When Anita Parrish supervises the SOUL Soup Kitchen in Trinity, she not only manages the cooking area, but also enlists volunteers and assigns food preparation duties.
In addition, she supervises probationers who perform court-ordered community service at the soup kitchen. Burning Hope Baptist Church views it as one more opportunity to touch the lives of people in its small Southeast Texas community, about 80 miles north of Houston.
Serving food for body and soul
As ministry coordinator at Burning Hope and supervisor of the SOUL—Sharing Our Unconditional Love—Soup Kitchen, Parrish provides food for people experiencing hardships in Trinity.
“Whether it’s food for hungry bodies, or food for hungry souls, we’re here to help,” Parrish said.
Every month, Burning Hope receives a check made possible by the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering. Burning Hope uses those funds to buy food that feeds low-income people in the community.
On Tuesday and Friday evenings, about 40 people gather in the fellowship hall for a nutritious meal of a meat, two vegetables, bread, dessert and tea. All the staff are volunteers.
“People in the Trinity area look forward to our twice-weekly meals,” said Tim Nixon who volunteers at the SOUL Soup Kitchen. “They become like family and are concerned about their neighbors.”
Birthed from community tragedy
Started in 1996, the soup kitchen developed after a tragic incident in the community of 2,700, when a 19-year-old young man was killed in a drug-related shooting.
The bereaved mother’s sister-in-law, who was a member of Burning Hope, asked the church to pray for the grieving family. The congregation ministered to the family, and they started attending church.
During a Wednesday night prayer service, the mother of the young man who had been killed suggested Burning Hope start feeding people in the community who were in need.
“I’ve been cooking beans and chili for the drunks in the bar for 25 years. Why can’t I cook for the folks at Trinity who don’t go to the bar?” she asked.
At the time, the church was meeting in a storefront location in a strip shopping center. Although it had no kitchen, members began cooking with crock pots and toaster ovens. Eventually, the church installed a sink, range, water heater and counters.
Four years later, God opened the door to relocate the church to a former restaurant, where a kitchen was available. In another four years, the congregation was able to move into its present location.
“Wherever we’ve located, there has always been a soup kitchen,” Parrish said. “Men, women, and children have taken advantage of the free food and worship at every site. Of course, over the years, the faces have changed. But regardless of the address, the needs are still the same for food, acceptance and fellowship.”
Jesus commanded his disciples to “feed the hungry,” Parrish noted.
“We never require anyone to listen to a sermon or attend our church to receive food. But we have a short devotion reading and prayer before each meal,” she said.
“There isn’t an invitation given. However, we sit and visit with the people and invite them to visit our church if they aren’t attending another one. Volunteers want to show them the love of Jesus and let the Holy Spirit do his job of drawing folks to our Father God.”
People who receive a meal often relate a prayer need, such as an upcoming surgery, need for employment or family concerns.
Jim Parrish, pastor of Burning Hope Baptist Church, mentions each prayer need when he thanks God for the meal that the soup kitchen serves. If a meal guest is hospitalized, he visits them.
Many of the same people attend each week, becoming like family, said Anita Parrish, the pastor’s wife.
During the years, God always provides for the needs of the soup kitchen, she noted. Brookshire Brothers donates bags of groceries. Vegetables from local gardens arrive just when they are needed. The Houston Food Bank contributes. The YMCA Camp and Trinity Pines Conference Center donate surplus meals. God supplies without the ministry having to solicit support, Parrish said.
Burning Hope is fortunate to have volunteers who support the program, she added. The volunteer dishwashers, cooks and helpers faithfully keep their commitments. When one moves away, there is always someone to take his or her place.
Parrish insists the ministry has changed her life.
“I personally have learned to listen to people and to treat everyone with respect,” she said.
“We are all loved by our Father God, and everyone should be treated with dignity and respect.”
Carolyn Tomlin writes for the Christian magazine and newspaper market. She teaches the Boot Camp for Christian Writes.
This is part of an ongoing series about how Christians respond to hunger and poverty. Substantive coverage of significant issues facing Texas Baptists is made possible in part by a grant from the Prichard Family Foundation.