As the economic slump persists and winter brings freezing temperatures, more of the working poor are making their way to the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling to get some help.
There to do the job Monday were fourth- and fifth-graders from Wheeling Country Day School, who spent the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service giving their time to serve lunch to area residents who cannot afford to feed themselves. The students worked in the kitchen and the dining room to prepare and serve a meal of hot dogs, corn on the cob, bread and more.
"It's a good opportunity for them to see the needs of Wheeling. It's very eye-opening for them to see there are people in their community that need meals and clothing. They look forward to it every year. It's a great experience for them," fifth-grade teacher Bridget Rutherford said.
Becky Shilling-Rodocker, soup kitchen executive director, said volunteers are needed as more people require services.
"More people are accessing help than ever because of the economy. It used to be predominantly the elderly, but now we're seeing that some work but still cannot make it between insurance payments, rent and gas," Shilling-Rodocker said.
She said while some struggle to pay heating bills in cold weather, she doesn't generally see more traffic during winter months - perhaps because the elderly won't venture out in the cold to get a meal.
"I think people have the idea in their mind that the winter is worse than the summer, but when you don't have enough money to make it, it's usually a year-round problem," she said.
But the winter months do create a need for warm clothing. The soup kitchen is collecting new or gently used coats, mittens, hats, socks and any warm clothing to give out for free to anyone who asks. The kitchen also is in need of canned fruits, and people also can donate non-food items such as toys and books to be distributed.
Shilling-Rodocker also pointed out that the soup kitchen provides camaraderie and a sense of community for its patrons. Many experience relief from loneliness by sharing a meal with others.