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Without water, soup kitchens still serving hungry

Lawrence Pierce
Cameron Cordon pours water into a pot to prepare lunch on Saturday. Despite the water crisis, Manna Meal, in downtown Charleston, remains open to serve the hungry with prepared food and bottle water.
Lawrence Pierce Terri Perks, a volunteer at Manna Meal, pours drinks for lunch, but no water. Manna Meal is conserving its clean water supply and offering juices, soda and milk to drink with meals.

Charleston, W.Va. -- Charleston soup kitchens are continuing to feed people even though they don't have usable water because of the chemical leak in the Elk River.

Residents in eight counties and part of a ninth have been ordered not to use tap water for any purpose. In the meantime, soup kitchens are continuing to find ways to feed the hungry.

Jean Simpson, director of Manna Meal, a soup kitchen and day shelter, said that Manna Meal had a large amount of prepared food, more than they usually have because it is right after the holidays. She said that they have been able to distribute that food even without water.

"I'm basically just emptying my coolers as far as anything that is already prepared," Simpson said. "Then we will go into our stash but like I said we just finished with the holidays and we are loaded and that's a blessing.

"What we are trying to do is abide by the rules and do the best we can with the situation we've got so we can be open," she said.

Manna Meal operates out of St. John's Episcopal Church located at 1105 Quarrier St in downtown Charleston. The soup kitchen serves an average of 410 people per day between the two meals it provides.

"We have never closed in 38 years," Simpson said. "I just think this is a good source of emergency food and possibly water if we can get it."

Simpson said they need water and are requesting donations. She has called the Charleston mayor's office, the Red Cross and the National Guard trying to find water.

"Water will come. I truly believe it will come from lots of different sources it's just the process of being slow," Simpson said. "People in this town are always willing to help."

For now, Manna Meal is serving patrons juice and milk.

"I'm not so concerned with the drinking water at this point," Simpson said. "I'm just concerned with food and having water to be able to create a sanitary operation."

Simpson said Manna Meal received its monthly shipment of supplies from the federal government on December 23, and it had a lot of juice and other beverages.

Manna Meal didn't have to close during Hurricane Sandy or the derecho that left many without power. It did prompt them to think about being better prepared.

They have talked about purchasing a generator and have selected one, although it will cost $200,000.

"I've got a feeling we are going to do it and now we're going to have to include some way to store water," Simpson said. "I'm learning we are not properly set up -- that there is a lot of work we need to do to be able to keep this open all the time."

Breakfast at Manna Meal is offered 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m to 1 p.m.

YWCA Sojourner's, a soup kitchen and shelter in the East End of Charleston is also up and running.

And local businesses are chipping in to help out agencies that help the needy.

John Ballengee president of United Way of Central West Virginia said he received a phone call last night from the president of West Virginia BB&T banks.

BB&T has a truck traveling from North Carolina with supplies, Ballengee was told.

Ballengee said United Way is coordinating with soup kitchens and shelters in the area to get them much needed supplies including paper utensils and water. 

United Way was planning to distribute those supplies to five different agencies on Saturday evening.

"This is just great recognition for community support from an organization that really cares a lot about the community," Ballengee said.

The corporate headquarters of 7-Eleven has also sent two tractor-trailers of bottled water to the 7-Eleven at 402 4th St. in Nitro. Water will be given out starting at 10 a.m. Sunday.

Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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