ROCK HILL, S.C. -- As the temperature dips, the most important question of the day at Bethel United Methodist Church in Rock Hill is Do you want chicken and rice or vegetable beef?

Tucked into a former gym turned makeshift cafeteria and kitchen, men and women church members and volunteers stir, chop and prepare enough for 600 meals. Some prepared for Thursday s lunch for hours.

A volunteer since 1994, Joyce McElveen has seen the annual once-a-week soup kitchen grow during the three months a year it runs. When the program first started 23 years ago, the church served about 100 needy guests. Now you ll see hundreds of people from all walks of life.

They start the soup at 5 o clock and by 11 people are lining up, ready for the 11:30 start. It s wonderful, said McElveen.

You run into the mayor here, the guys who work at the phone company, they come in droves, said one regular.

McElveen sees on a typical day lawyers, the fire department, the police department, everybody. Donations aren t required, but many lunch goers chose to tuck $5 or even $10 into the donation jar.

Money helps keep the kitchen going and operates the church s men s shelter.

We d like the program to run all year, but we really don t have resources right now, but we d like it to continue, Said the church s pastor, Josh McClendon.

So what s the success to this community gathering? It s not just the food.

This is some of the best soup you ll ever get. Sure it has the same ingredients as other places, but this soup is full of love, said Ernie Nivens.

If you d like to attend, lunch runs every Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and opens through March.

To donate or to volunteer, call 803-327-4881.

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