CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For Jean Simpson and the hundreds of hungry people who will pass through the doors of Manna Meal on Charleston's East End, Thursday is just another day.
"The biggest thing I feel people take for granted is the basic need for food," Simpson said. "They take for granted that they eat every day, three times a day, and they just don't realize the people who don't have that ability who are right under their noses."
Housed at St. John's Episcopal Church on Quarrier Street, Manna Meal is the largest soup kitchen in the city, and serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week.
According to Simpson, its executive director, the winter months are "months of giving" for many, and Manna Meal is inundated with volunteers each year around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The organization has 21 volunteers for Thursday's meals. The average number of volunteers on a normal day is 10.
"I cherish this time, because what happens is there are so many people giving that I can really stock my shelves, and then I've got food that will take us through January, February and March," Simpson said.
What people don't always think about, she said, is the rest of the year. "By March, we'll be empty again."
The average number of people who eat breakfast and lunch at Manna Meal each day during the winter is 410, Simpson said, and was about 480 per day on average during the summer. Simpson attributes the decrease to colder weather, which keeps people who don't have cars and can't afford public transit from coming into Charleston.
"We'll probably see less, and the weather is going to have something to do with it. The elderly aren't going to go out," she said. "We see in the summer months and the warmer months that people come from a longer distance, because for most of them, transportation is the problem, and their only transportation is to walk, ride their bicycle or take public transportation. If they don't have the money for public transportation, then they're walking or riding their bicycle. If the weather's too bad, they're not going to do either."
Simpson said that although donations and volunteerism are lower during other parts of the year, the amount of support Manna Meal receives from the Charleston community is uniquely strong.
"We live in Charleston, W.Va. This is a very giving community. It's unbelievable," she said. "There are a lot of nonprofits in the valley that are supported just from the donations of individuals helping -- businesses, privately owned businesses and individuals that help us. It's just huge."
According to Simpson, it costs approximately $750,000 to operate Manna Meal each year, and about $250,000 of that amount comes from in-kind donations of food from the community. Of the remaining $500,000, Simpson estimates that 90 percent comes from community donations of money.