story written by sarah chase
photos by dokk savage
Jeremiah 29:11 was the bible verse that began it all for Theresa Wilson. After moving to the Huntsville area from El Paso, Texas, Wilson found herself in a place where she knew no one and had no family, but her faith led her to remember the verse: “For I know the plans I have for you.” In those words she began to trust in the future God had planned for her.
A month later Wilson felt moved by Christ to make a chicken. That effort was one that changed the trajectory of her life. That next day she made a whole dinner that included chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and a cheesecake.
“I loaded it all up in my car and I was like, ‘Lord, I do not know where you want me to go with this, but just show me.’ There was a couple that had joined the church the week before and the pastor said they had real pretty Christmas lights. They were on the same road as the church, so I went there and knocked on the door. I said ‘I have a meal for you for joining the church’ and they did not know I was coming. I brought in the meals, set it up, left and later on the wife called me and she said ‘What a lovely ministry you have’ and I never thought of myself as worthy enough to have a ministry. I was not that person, but God uses the ones that are unqualified, clueless,” Wilson said.
That one act of kindness led to Wilson developing Team Hope. A mobile ministry that went to homeless camps, delivered food, canned goods and toiletries. Team Hope was the path that set Wilson up to directing the Rose of Sharon Soup Kitchen located in Northwest Huntsville in 2017. Sharon Walker, the previous director, was in search for someone to take over the soup kitchen as she was ready to retire.
“God came to her in a dream and told her to give it to Teresa Wilson, she had to do some research to find me, she called me and she said [she was] retiring and I was a little skeptical until she told me that God came to her told her to give it to me, so I had no choice,” Wilson said. “It was perfect timing. Since I had already been working with the homeless since 2010. I had seven years of relationship experience with them. I would take over the soup kitchen and God’s timing was perfect. It was exactly what God wanted me to do.”
When Wilson took over she was determined to change the soup kitchen to a place where patrons can “dine with dignity.” Wilson saw an opportunity to give more than just food to people in need. She took an effort to improve the overall experience at the soup kitchen.
“I decided I was going to brighten it up by putting tablecloths and tablescapes on the table, fresh flowers. Nobody goes through a line at the soup kitchen here. Everybody is served tableside. So it is like a cafe where you do not pay. We have great home cooked meals and that is anything from spaghetti to chicken and dressing to biscuits and gravy. We have home cooked meals and we plate them on real china with real silverware and we serve them tableside. Everyone that comes here does not feel like ‘oh, I can not afford a meal and so I have to lower myself and go and plead for help here.’ We just serve and love on people and it gives them dignity. Everybody should be treated like that,” Wilson said.
That treatment has indeed impacted the people served by the soup kitchen. Wilson shares that the assistance does not stop at feeding.
They continue to be involved in the lives of the people they serve. “Whether it is going with them to the probation office or going with them to meet family they have been estranged from to taking them for snow cones, my daughter and I have taken a couple of homeless people to get a snow cone, just something different that gives them hope,” Wilson said. “We have had some great success stories with putting people into rehab and actually changing their lives. We had one gentleman, he came in numerous times and was a pretty bad dude on the streets. He went through rehab and changed his life. He lives in Birmingham and now has a job, an apartment, and a truck. He is back on his feet and that is what we do- we try to help by loving them where they are.”
Jerry White, a patron at the soup kitchen, has experienced that love, which is what makes him keep coming back. After hearing about the soup kitchen from others, White and his friends decided to go.
“The people here are great. They are better than any family could possibly be to me. I come down here and get something to eat, something to drink and to cool off,” White said. “They take good care of us and if you need clothes or hygiene stuff they provide that for you. All you have to do is ask.”
The soup kitchen serves two meals Tuesday through Friday, but their efforts to serve the community do not stop there. They also host a food box program, provide access to washer and dryer for laundry and clean clothing, in addition to hosting church services every Sunday morning.
Wilson shares that the soup kitchen is always in need of volunteers to come in and serve. Volunteers can help prepare and serve meals, sort donations, clean and organize items, you name it. “We always need donations of non-perishable food, perishable foods, meat, we take toiletries, clothing, blankets, and monetary donations.”
One local business who recently answered the call for donations is Landers McLarty Subaru. The dealership announced a year-long partnership in which they would cover the operating expenses incurred by the Rose of Sharon, for an entire year.
Landers McLarty Subaru has committed to feeding 100,000 families in addition to volunteering their time in man hours serving the Rose of Sharon organization and its patrons.
Owner and Managing Partner Frank William explains, “We’ve had an ongoing partnership with the Rose of Sharon Soup Kitchen for several years now. When we really thought about it, one year of service for this organization would make a big difference. We want to fill the gap with not only our resources, but also our volunteer efforts.”
For details on how you can join Landers McLarty Subaru and Frank Williams in providing One Year of Love, please visit roseofsharonsoupkitchen.org/a-year-of-love .
Additional information regarding volunteering with the Rose of Sharon Soup Kitchen can be found here, roseofsharonsoupkitchen.org/.