Grant supports the Soup Café in feeding bellies and souls
Heaven’s Helpers Soup Café, a prayer-funded business that provides free home-cooked soups and sandwiches to people who are homeless or in need, closed about a year-and-a-half ago. Now, in a new location, it is preparing to open and continue its mission of feeding bellies and souls.
Mark Meier, executive director of the Heaven’s Helpers Soup Café, operated the business on Memorial Highway for six years, serving 100 to 200 people daily six days a week. As the community’s need for free meals grew, and space became limited, Meier started looking for a larger building that was located closer to the homeless shelter. Then, his current lease ended — and the business was forced to close.
Mark and his wife, Mary, began the process of purchasing the Chesak Seed House building at 220 N. 23rd St. last year. They are currently remodeling the space into the next Heaven’s Helpers Soup Café, and hope to open at the end of May. Located half a block from the homeless shelter, the business will provide more than a hot meal. Mark says he plans to add a shower and laundry facility, and an office area where guests can use a computer and research job opportunities. When people come to eat a free meal, they can earn “Soup Café bucks” by chopping vegetables, washing dishes and helping where needed. Then, they can exchange their bucks to get clean or wash their clothes.
“It plugs them in, gets them involved and gives them a feeling of worth,” he says.
At the former location, Mark shares that people would often go to the river to “clean up,” or use the bathroom to take a sponge bath.
“Our goal is to provide them with a warm meal, hot shower and clean clothes; the basics you and I take for granted,” he says.
Funding is a forever challenge that is answered time and again in prayer. Mark says he’s seen many miracles and opportunities for the Lord to literally multiply soup in a pot.
“When we first opened, we were running low on supplies. I needed soap, paper towels and milk, and had the money in-hand, but decided to wait and pray about it instead. The Lord told me he’d plan the menu and take care of it,” Mark says. “In a couple hours, someone showed up with those three items in hand. If we need a certain amount of money to pay the rent and we don’t have it, we pray about it — and it comes.”
In the new location, Mark wanted to install a commercial dishwasher but didn’t have the funds. He prayed about it — and Capital Electric Cooperative members answered through the co-op’s Operation Round Up program.
Operation Round Up is a voluntary program in which electric cooperative members round up their monthly utility bills to the nearest dollar and donate their change to local individuals, groups or charities with a specific need. Mark applied for a grant on behalf of the Soup Café earlier this year, and he accepted the check at a ceremony at cooperative headquarters on Feb. 16.
Dean Woehl, the soup café’s longest-standing volunteer, says he’s now out of a job. A regular volunteer at the former location on Wednesday evenings, Dean would wash the dishes by hand. Thanks to the Operation Round Up grant, the Soup Café has the funding required to purchase and install the commercial dishwasher. Dean indicates he’s happy to continue serving, visiting and praying with guests.
Anyone is welcome to eat a free meal at Heaven’s Helpers Soup Café. If you want a good home-cooked meal, stop in and eat — and if you can, leave a donation. Dean says it’s not uncommon to find a large donation in the box. Those donations are needed and appreciated — and are used to help people gain a sense of worth.
For information on Heaven’s Helpers Soup Café, find and follow the business on Facebook, or contact Mark Meier at 226-2325 or firstname.lastname@example.org.