The Ottumwa Courier

February 28, 2014

Fighting hunger

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — "As one door closes, another door opens."

The closing door is the program nicknamed Meals on Wheels from the Salvation Army (see article) which is ending there. Yet the next door to open is different food program for those in need. This door is to Blessings, a "soup kitchen" that will serve lunch and dinner in downtown Ottumwa.

"We want everyone to be able to come," said Jim "Brother Jim" Wheeler of Ottumwa.

He said if people can't afford to donate, they don't have to. They are not yet planning on making deliveries to homes. But you don't have to be homeless, struggling or alone to eat at the East Second Street soup kitchen — just hungry.

"Everyone is welcome," said Wheeler.

Wheeler, like pastor and kitchen co-founder Gary Smith, has overcome addiction problems, while co-founder Sheri Locke has faced other troubles. Those challenges actually brought the three founders together: Pastor Smith had ministered to both Locke and Wheeler in past years, when each was at a low point in their lives.

If God brought them together, said Wheeler, then it was for the purpose of helping His children.

"I'm doing exactly what I'm meant to be doing," Locke agreed. "Because of our experiences, we know that anybody can need help at any time."

Some of their volunteer staff will be made up of drug court participants doing community service hours. Others may have recently been in jail or left work due to drug and alcohol abuse.

One benefit of getting assistance from the people society may have forgotten about, said Locke, is the sense of worth these helpers regain. Besides, she said, assisting in the construction and operation of a community soup kitchen can look pretty good on a resume for someone who needs to start their life over from scratch.

Members of Church of the Living Water, where Smith and Locke are pastors, have taken the soup kitchen as a mission of love. Other volunteers come from the STARR program, in which drug and alcohol addiction are fought off by Striving to Reach Recovery and Rehabilitation. Meetings are held nearby. In fact, the logistics of Blessings, at 228 A E. Main St., lends itself well to the purpose of breaking bread together.

"We chose the location so it isn't next to any bars, and it's not a former bar that's going to 'trigger' anyone," said Locke. "It's a central point in town, it's near the bus stop, it's not in a dangerous area."

It's small, too, meaning it should be easier to maintain. The entrance is planned for the back of the building, facing the rear parking lot. That means there won't be the worry by neighbors that soup kitchen patrons will congregate out front on the sidewalk.

That front is getting a face lift, too, though, Locke said. The Blessings group loves the idea of downtown renovation, and they want to be part of that renewal, Locke said.

The group plans to open on April 21, the day after Easter.

— News reporter Mark Newman is on Twitter @couriermark