Local soup bowl fosters community atmosphereBy Dylan Walker | 07/01/2014 8:24pm
Charlie Simmons sits at a round table, which is covered by a white tablecloth and an assortment of candy. It is Friday at the East Tuscaloosa Community Soup Bowl, and a dozen volunteers are getting ready to serve 125 meals to locals in need. Simmons looks up from his seat to observe their progress, turning over his left hand to reveal a small tattoo of a cross.
Simmons is the director of the East Tuscaloosa Community Soup Bowl, a nonprofit organization founded in 2005, that serves hot lunches to the community every Wednesday and Friday at Hargrove Memorial United Methodist Church. The organization, funded solely by donations, also serves brown-bag lunches every Sunday in the Alberta area.
Simmons, a Tuscaloosa County native, first volunteered at ETCSB around Thanksgiving 2006, and became the director in January 2007. Prior to his directorship, he worked at jewelry stores in retail management, at a funeral home and as a chauffeur. Simmons said his changing careers were a result of divine planning.
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“I rededicated my life to the Lord in 2001, and I always tell people to be cautious giving their life to the Lord, because you don’t know where he’ll send you,” Simmons said. “He wanted me here.”
The ETCSB is a Christian, nondenominational organization, but Simmons stresses that their doors are open to everyone. No identification, monetary statements or religious commitment is required to eat a meal.
“We are glad we can profess that we’re a Christian organization, but we don’t beat people over the head with a Bible,” Simmons said. “We love on people.”
After the April 27, 2011 tornado, ETCSB served meals to residents and provided emergency supplies. After the winter storms this month, Simmons and his adopted son, Michael Robbins, served meals to any individuals who could make it to Hargrove Memorial.
“It really was an effort those days to get here and get a meal, but we’re very consistent,” Simmons said. “What we do, we do on a regular basis.”
Simmons finds the progress of his regulars to be the most rewarding aspect of his work at ETCSB. He has learned that everyone faces challenges. That is the foundation of relationships, he said.
“It’s become a community of sorts,” Simmons said. “A lot of our clients have become friends and have helped each other out.”
Robbins is a volunteer of four years at the soup bowl. Having known Simmons for five years, Robbins said he is thankful for the servant heart of his adopted father. He seems to speak only in “we” and never in “I," Robbins said.
“He always brings a smile to everyone’s face when they see him,” Robbins said. “He always brings me joy.”
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In the future, Simmons said he wants to see ETCSB grow to serve meals seven days a week. He wants to continue to help clients physically and spiritually, to live up to the promise tattooed on his left hand.
“One of the best ways to love God is to love people,” Simmons said.
Tatiana Carrasquilla, a junior majoring in biology, began working with Simmons and the ETSCB last fall as part of her Swipe Away Hunger initiative, where students used their meal swipes to donate food to the soup bowl for a Thanksgiving meal. She continues to serve this semester whenever she can. Carrasqullia said she will never forget serving at the soup bowl and meeting the regulars.
“Everyone is so happy to be there and to be getting the food,” Carrasquilla said. “And Charlie is great; he keeps everything ordered.”
Robbins and the ETCSB clients said they are grateful for Simmons’s service, and hope that he sticks around.
“He’s a great guy and I hope he continues his work,” Robbins said.
At 11:45 in the morning, Simmons greets his first clients of the day. He stands up from the decorated table and goes to meet his guests as if they are walking into his own kitchen. He will eventually retire and move near the coast, he said, but for now Tuscaloosa and the soup bowl are home.
“If you enjoy what you do, you don’t work a day in your life,” Simmons said.
Simmons said other students could get involved by sending in monetary donations or gallon-sized cans of food. Students interested in helping can find the group on Facebook at facebook.com/ETCSB, or by calling (205) 553-4588.
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