CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For every day of the week, there is a different task at University Soup Kitchen, but the mission is always the same.
Joshua Bridges, founder and executive director of the nonprofit, wants volunteers to not only serve but also connect.
"Our volunteers aren't just out here serving, or just out here trying to fulfill a requirement," Bridges said, noting that those they serve should also feel compassion too. "At least for the moments that we're interacting with them, we try to let them know we care about them."
University Soup Kitchen is located on North Tyron Street in Charlotte, just minutes away from the UNC Charlotte campus. Bridges said that is not a mistake.
"Most cities, I've noticed, have universities that are in close proximity to people in need," Bridges said. "So, my idea was to connect the campus to the community to help people get out of chronic poverty."
On Sundays, the organization brings its operations to Uptown, serving lunch to those who need it. Many coming for food are living on the street and are former Tent City residents. Volunteers also dole out clothing.
Bridges begins the service with a prayer and a reminder of what the mission is: "Please Lord, remind us of why we're here. It's to try to spread the love we want to receive."
During the week, volunteers pack boxes of groceries and other essentials to deliver to people in need. Some are living in low-income housing, others in hotels.
Lily Ezuma, a senior majoring in Psychology, has been volunteering with University Soup Kitchen for several months and said the experience has been eye-opening and inspiring.
"It's been so fulfilling, and not in the way I thought it would be. It's really been intrinsically rewarding," Ezuma said.
On Friday, the group has mobile meal day, with volunteers packing lunches to deliver in different neighborhoods.
For Bridges, it is all about nourishing bodies, and also lives and souls.
"You can't put a band-aid on a problem needing stitches -- we're not just trying to hand people goods," Bridges said. "We know that a lot of this is the fact that people are dealing with a lot of things, and you never know what someone's going through."
How to help
Volunteers and donations are crucial to the organization. Bridges said the holidays are always a busy time, but the economic impacts from the pandemic have worsened the need.
University Soup Kitchen has some larger needs to continue operations and expand them, as demand grows, including a larger building space, monetary donations for utilities, and a passenger van for mobile efforts.
Below are some of the supplies needed for its programs.
Tent City support:
- Clothing, like shoes, jeans (men's and women's), socks, underwear
- Personal care items, like bug spray, wipes, toothpaste
- Bus passes, weekly or monthly
- Blankets & pillows
- Tarps for tents
Mobile pantry support:
- Dairy, like milk and eggs
- Peanut butter and jelly
- Canned food items, side or meals
- TV dinners
- Non-perishable snacks
- Ground meat
- Diapers, sizes 3T, 4T and 5T
In addition to regular assistance items, University Soup Kitchen is collecting turkeys and hams for holiday meals.
Physical donations can be dropped off at the USK office: 5736 N. Tryon St., Suite 106, Charlotte, NC 28213, Monday through Friday, 9-6 p.m. Drop-offs outside of those times can be set up by calling 980-263-9348.
Volunteer needs include mobile pantry delivery drivers, food packers, servers, and administrative volunteers who could organize and lead tasks. Anyone who wants to help can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Charlotte location serves all of Mecklenburg County, and there are plans to relaunch a location in Chapel Hill and start a new program near Winthrop, in Rock Hill.
Those needing services can call 980-263-9348 and should be prepared to answer some questions about their need. Those living in their car may have to drive to the USK office for a consultation.