By Berit Ollestad and Kevin Coughlin
Morristown’s Table of Hope soup kitchen, which ran low on funds and closed earlier this month, is getting a new lease on life. It’s scheduled to re-open on Thursday, March 17, 2016, thanks to generous donors.
“We raised just under $10,000,” the Rev. Sidney Williams Jr., founder of the soup kitchen and pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church, said on Wednesday.
Table of Hope served what appeared to be its last meal on March 4. The soup kitchen had been serving up to 100 people — many of them the working poor — five nights a week since opening in the Bethel basement in September 2013.
“We’ve learned an important lesson. We will diversify our donor base,” said Frank Vitolo, vice chairman of the nonprofit Spring Street Redevelopment Corp., which oversees Table of Hope.
After MorristownGreen.com reported the soup kitchen’s plight, “we were overwhelmed by the response,” said Vitolo, an attorney who also is Morristown’s GOP chairman.
Vitolo started an online fundraising campaign, “Save Table of Hope,” which raised close to $4,100 from 65 donors in eight days. Contributions ranged from $10 to $250.
The soup kitchen also got substantial donations from Grace Church, a 25-member congregation in Morristown, and the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship in Morris Township, Vitolo said.
Although most of its food is donated by the Community Food Bank of New Jersey and Grow It Green Morristown, and it’s staffed largely by volunteers, Table of Hope pays for cooks, supplies and trash removal, Williams has said.
“Please note that less than $1 out of $10 goes to the stipends we pay our core staff,” the pastor said.
The operation was shut down because he feared Table of Hope could not meet its obligations much longer, Williams said at the time. Bethel AME contributes up to $50,000 a year, and a matching amount is needed to keep the soup kitchen running, he said.
Table of Hope had relied on a few key donors. When some pulled out, things got precarious, Vitolo said.
“We will actively seek more corporate donors, and more consistent donations from individuals,” he said. “The generosity of the community inspired us. We feel an obligation to keep Table of Hope running in perpetuity.”
Williams ran unsuccessfully for council last fall in a hard-fought election; he has said the soup kitchen may have become “politicized” during the campaign.
‘NICE FAMILY ATMOSPHERE’
Thursday’s reopening should be welcome news for dozens who are struggling to make ends meet.
At the soup kitchen’s last supper, on March 4, guests included Melissa and her daughter Chantel, 19, a student at Community College of Morris. Homeless for two months, they said they have been living in their car since leaving an abusive relationship.
They described Table of Hope as a place where they felt comfortable and safe to relax, share a meal and talk with friends they’ve met there.
One employee said the soup kitchen was serving three tables of guests per night.
A dining room supervisor, who gave her name as Ms. Mary, said she worried about undocumented workers who came there to eat. “It gives them a place to sit down and relax. What’s going to happen to them?” she said on that closing night.
The Community Soup Kitchen and Outreach Center at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer provides free lunches for those in need. The Market Street Mission, near the Green, serves dinner nightly.
Yet many guests at Table of Hope said it’s unique.
“It has a nice family atmosphere and you can sit and relax and watch a little TV and no one is rushing you out” said Keith, a frequent guest.