Washington Street United Methodist Church (WSUMC) will recognize the 40th anniversary of its Soup Cellar on Sunday, October 20 in the fellowship hall of the church immediately following the 11:00 am service. The Soup Cellar, located on the Marion Street side of WSUMC feeds 150-200 individuals each weekday in downtown Columbia at no charge. It is completely funded by donations from area churches, organizations, and individual donors. As WSUMC maintains no formal budget line item for the Soup Cellar, this ministry depends solely on its donations. Food is obtained at a minimal cost from Harvest Hope Food Bank, through the USDA Commodities Program, and the Donated Foods Program. Additional food is purchased through donations. In 2017, the Soup Cellar was the 2017 recipient of the Servant’s Heart Award from the Midlands Area Consortium for Mental Health.
History of the Soup Cellar
On October 15, 1979, twelve beleaguered souls came through open doors to the new Soup Cellar at Washington Street United Methodist Church to have lunch. Their visit launched a tradition of ministry to the homeless and to anyone in need, in downtown Columbia. Over the years, the Soup Cellar has provided nearly a million meals. During 2018 alone, the Soup Cellar provided more than 45,000 meals.
Modeled on a successful program at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, the Soup Cellar was the dream of Mary Laney Tatum, who had interned at St. Luke’s, and the Reverend Dr. James Barrett, senior minister from 1976 to November of 1977. After two years of planning, the dream of the Washington Street Methodist Church Soup Cellar was finally realized.
To assist in the Church’s outreach to the urban community, two new positions were created and filled: Reverend Toni White came in 1977 as Minister of Education and Outreach, and Mary Tatum was brought on as New Ministries Coordinator. In addition, Rebecca Callcott, lay member and chair of the Work Area on Christian Social Concerns, contributed administrative assistance, acquisition of funding, and volunteer coordination to this new venture. When the Soup Cellar opened for business in October of 1979, Reverend C. J. Lupo was senior minister and provided the overall introductory leadership.
During its initial year, the Soup Cellar operated only on Mondays and Fridays, and only the staff and lay volunteers from Washington Street Church worked to provide the meals. Those coming for meals increased from a dozen at first to 50 or 60 over a few weeks. Other churches began to lend financial support, and Wednesday meal service was added. Fortunately, volunteers came from First Presbyterian, First Baptist, and Trinity Episcopal Cathedral to augment the Washington Street Church workers. Over time, two more days were added to the serving schedule. Then five Lutheran churches came together to be responsible for Friday meals. Nazareth Baptist began a Saturday meal in that congregation’s church, and Trinity Cathedral offered breakfast on Sundays. The Soup Cellar at Washington Street ministry had expanded its influence to substantially assist those in need in downtown Columbia.
Numerous local churches currently provide both volunteers and financial support to the Soup Cellar. Those churches include Windsor United Methodist Church, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Union UMC, Forest Lake Presbyterian, Shandon Presbyterian, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Sidney Park CME, Shandon UMC, First Baptist, Trenholm Road UMC, St. Joseph Church, Whaley Street UMC, Eastminster Presbyterian Women, St. Mark UMC, Second Calvary Baptist Church, Salem UMC, Trinity Episcopal, Rehoboth UMC, St. Andrew’s Lutheran, St. David Lutheran, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This level of participation ensures the true ecumenical spirit of this downtown ministry.
Under the direction of its current manager, Terrence Chisholm, the Soup Cellar continues to thrive at Washington Street United Methodist Church and is a vital part of the downtown community it serves.