"The good that we do here is because God loves you," Pastor David Marcello told the crowd during a recent meal at Sojourner Truth Ministries. "God's love is shown by what his people do for each other."
For the last 12 years, Sojourner Truth Ministries has opened its doors at 501 High St. to serve the needy a hot meal 365 days a year.
Marcello, ministry coordinator, uses the daily meals as a chance to share the message of the Gospel with attendees, both in words and action in the soup kitchen and the clothes closet.
"The meals and the clothes are symbolic of God's grace," he said. "Free gifts to show God's love."
However, offering daily meals and clothing free of charge has its own challenges, especially financial.
The ministry now needs help from the community to continue serving the needs of those in center city, Cynde Eister, treasurer and member of the board of directors, said.
Eister said the ministry wants to challenge 1,000 people to pledge $100 a year to the ministry.
"That's less than $10 a month," she said.
Being open daily in such an old building has made making ends meet difficult in recent times.
Giving has decreased while costs of maintaining inefficient heating and plumbing systems have increased.
"We place our faith in God and trust that he will provide," Marcello said. "He always has, but at times, he's required us to stretch our imaginations."
The ministry relies on what Marcello describes as "the generosity and kindness of individuals and churches."
In return for that generosity, an average of 60 people are served a nutritious meal each day, more than 1,000 pieces of clothing are given away and many people find a place to belong.
"We try to provide a place of safety (through) a cup of coffee, a nutritious meal ... a place where they are comfortable and not judged," Marcello said. "Nothing prevents us from opening the doors and serving a meal."
It's having an impact, Marcello and Eister said. Many people take the time to give back to the ministry when they can through donations of money and time.
One woman, originally from Georgia, is a familiar face around the ministry.
Susan Palmer began volunteering at the ministry as part of her court-mandated community service, but she now continues to volunteer when she has the chance.
"By coming here, I have learned to grow closer to the Lord and congregate with other people in a safe environment," Palmer said. "It helps financially and spiritually."
Volunteering in the kitchen also benefits Palmer.
"It makes me feel good on the inside to be able to help other people, and it keeps me out of trouble," she said.
Going forward, the ministry plans to continue doing the same what it always has - feed and clothe the needy.
However, Marcello also hopes to expand the educational opportunities available to those who need them.
He said he would like to offer classes in personal hygiene, child-rearing, conflict resolution, anger management and maintaining healthy relationships in addition to the Bible studies and church service already offered.
He also would like to see continued and even expanded involvement from area churches.
The ministry, he said, began out of a vision of a group of area pastors, but now congregations come and serve meals on Saturdays as a local mission trip.
"It allows them to experience the joy of service," Marcello said. "It's a great community building for congregations."