Every day nearly two hundred of Richmond’s hungry are served free meals by the Greater Richmond Interfaith Project volunteers. This Thanksgiving, GRIP seeks to feed hundreds more.
“We just want to help somebody,” volunteer Barbara Scott said. “We have all been blessed and this is our way to give back.”
Scott is one of 8-10 volunteers from St. John Missionary Baptist Church, some of whom have been serving for more than 20 years.
Volunteers like Scott make up the strong labor force that GRIP program director, Kia Croom said, powers the soup kitchen.
Each day of the month a different Richmond-based congregation helps prepare and serve the food. Most of the churches have maintained their monthly assignments for decades. By year’s end, nearly 4,000 volunteers serve about 103,000 meals.
“They show up like employees,” Croom said. “We couldn’t afford to pay them.”
The volunteers have provided GRIP with labor worth millions of dollars over the years.
GRIP’s faithful volunteers represent various religions from Muslim and Christian to Sikh and Bahai.
No matter the faith, all the volunteer organizations believe in helping the hungry, homeless and less fortunate, Croom said.
In 2012, the GRIP souper kitchen is a vehicle for mission work in Richmond. In 1968, it was a group of religious leaders who banned together to call for social justice in their city and respond to racial tension within the community.
While GRIP’s founders were constructing the program, the living conditions of people in poverty quickly arose as one of the most pressing needs in the city.
At its inception, GRIP did not have the means to provide shelter or income for the less fortunate, but there was one thing they could offer – food.
The faith leaders called upon their congregations for donations and they have been volunteering their money, time and food ever since.
In GRIP’s early days there was a food truck from which volunteers dispensed essentials like bread, fruit and beans. By 1985, the souper center had been created.
Before the food reaches the table, it is prepared by a chef who says he’s motivated by more than just a paycheck and sees his mission as helping everyone who comes through the door.
“I’m made for this,” Chef Armando Robinson said.
Though Robinson has been the chef for a year and a half, he has been affiliated with GRIP for several years as a volunteer and a patron.
“I was formerly homeless and came here to eat, shower and wash clothes,” he said. But as Robinson got clean from drugs, he began to volunteer and eventually enrolled at Contra Costa College. In 2011 he graduated with a culinary arts degree.
Robinson is one of a growing population that has been able to escape the instability of homelessness through free aid and education.
In a city like Richmond, the need often outweighs provision. But GRIP is dedicated to bridging the gap between the haves and have-nots – one forkful at a time.
A city’s development potential is shown by the quality of the organizations that support disenfranchised people, said first-time GRIP patron Delmar Bryant.
“I’ve moved through missions and shelters – the bottom part of society,” he said between bites of salad. Bryant has decided to settle in the East Bay because “there is help for people that need help.”
And this Thanksgiving there will be food for those who need food. On Thursday, GRIP plans to serve well over double the number of clients they usually see.
Click here for a map of other Richmond organizations hosting Thanksgiving meals.