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Stepping up with a plate

Usually, the Salvation Army’s Kid’s Café in Manchester, N.H., is alive with the sounds of laughing children every evening from Monday through Thursday. Some of the city’s most vulnerable kids enjoy games, fun, and great food.

However, the popular after–school program closed when COVID–19 shut down local schools and restricted attendance at meetings to 10 people or less throughout the state.

“We realized that the kids who attend the Kid’s Café still needed to eat,” said Captain Michael Harper. “They depend on that warm meal Monday through Thursday during the school year. We kept that going and decided to just serve to–go meals.”

Harper said the distribution of warm to–go meals was expanded from four days to five. The corps also started giving meals to the siblings of Kid’s Café participants and to their parents, many of whom lost their jobs with the economic shutdown.

About a week later, Manchester’s only shelter closed its soup kitchen to everyone but residents.

“All of the folks already experiencing food insecurity and food scarcity no longer had a place to get their dinner meal, so we reached out to the shelter and the mayor’s office and asked if we could help,” Harper said.

Since March 23, corps volunteers and staff have offered two feedings a day, five days a week. From 3:30-4:30 p.m., they feed 125–150 warm to–go meals to those who normally went to the shelter’s soup kitchen. From 5–6 p.m., they provide 100–150 meals to the children from Kid’s Café and their families.

“We’re averaging between 250 and 300 meals a day,” Harper said.

Harper leads a unique evangelism team at the corps called “Mobile Joes,” which brings sandwiches, coffee, and God’s love to the city’s homeless. Those staff and volunteers have switched roles to help feed the people coming from the shelter’s closed soup kitchen.

The food pantry at the corps also remains busy, Harper said. The corps has delivered food to seniors and others who can’t leave their homes.

Harper said monetary gifts from businesses and the community have helped offset the costs of the expanded feedings.

The government has assigned refugees to Manchester for several years and the city is home to several nationalities, Harper said. Many of them find applying for aid complicated and they are struggling with job losses and other issues during the shutdown.

“Folks are dealing with it the best they can and are appreciative of anything we can do in the meantime to help them,” Harper said.

Harper had praise for the cadre of 10–12 dedicated volunteers who show up each day to make the feedings possible.

“At great personal risk to their own health, they have worked tirelessly to reach out to the most vulnerable in our community, which are children and the homeless,” he said. “That’s just been very inspiring for me to see and it’s been a pleasure to serve alongside them.”

by Robert Mitchell

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