In her fourth year of study toward a BA/MS in Lutheran Childhood Teacher Education, Concordia College student Victoria Garloch also sings with the Concordia Community Choir, serves as Secretary of the Campus Christian Ministries Club, tutors students in history, is a Morning Reflection leader, and recently started a new campus book club.
Despite this daunting load, Victoria also finds time to run the Warwick Community Kitchen, a soup kitchen that serves monthly meals to families or individuals in need of a meal or fellowship with their neighbors, which she founded eight years ago as a freshman in high school.
While searching for a Girl Scout Gold Award project that would have a lasting impact, she volunteered for a Midnight Run, and the experience had a profound effect on her.
“I grew up in rural Warwick, and at that age the thought of being among the homeless in Manhattan made me so nervous and uncomfortable that it was hard to even get out of the car. As I was handing out soup at the last stop, a man approached me – he was in a wheel-chair because his leg had been amputated – and my nervousness grew. But when he asked, ‘Can I have some soup, please?’ my fear just went away, replaced by a strong desire to help the less fortunate in my community.”
Victoria didn’t have to look far to find people in need. Just that fall both of her uncle’s farms had been destroyed by Hurricane Irene. “I knew that the migrant farm workers he was forced to lay off would be destitute. My own family is working-class, and we have been to food banks at times, but these families live on far less.”
She knew that a church rented part of her former elementary school, now closed, so she approached the superintendent for permission to serve meals in the space. With the help of family members (her father has a culinary degree) and other volunteers, the Warwick Community Kitchen served 56 people at its first meal.
The Kitchen now serves between 100 and 120 people at each monthly meal, and also provides a packed lunch to bring home for the next day. Over time The Kitchen has come to serve a need for connection as well sustenance. Birthdays and anniversaries are celebrated. Senior citizens stay to play cards. Victoria arranges arts and crafts for the children, and a station is set up for her sister Rebecca and other volunteers paint guests’ nails. The Kitchen serves over 250 people at Thanksgiving, and even more at Christmas, when a bilingual Santa arrives with toys and gifts.
Victoria has been active in soliciting grants and sponsorships, and dozens of local businesses and citizens have given generously, including the town’s fire fighters, police officers and sanitation workers.
“It feels great,” says Victoria. “The surprise is that it’s become like a family. We’ve built a community among the people who come each month. A migrant family expecting their youngest child came to the first meal we served – now, eight years later, I’ve been to their house and gotten to seen their children grow up.”