DERRY — It’s a place for food, friendship and serving others.
For 30 years, Sonshine Soup Kitchen in Derry has offered a daily dose of not only a nutritious free meal to those in need, but a strong volunteer network representing area businesses, schools, churches and individuals wanting to pitch in and help.
Christine Fudala, executive director, said the food mission could not function without its volunteers and teams, coming in every day to either cook meals, serve, or do after meal cleanup.
And having those three decades of service shows just how important the Sonshine mission is in downtown Derry, Fudala said.
In 2019, the soup kitchen served up more than 10,000 meals, Fudala said, an increase from the year before.
She said Sonshine is a haven for many, and more and more are being served. People of all ages are coming for meals, with various life circumstances taking hold and forcing many to face challenges.
"We are seeing more people who are misplaced for one reason or another," Fudala said. "We are happy they have a place to come and be nourished."
For more than 20 years, the soup kitchen operated out of the basement at First Baptist Church at the corner of Crystal Avenue and Broadway, offering food, friendship and support.
The original church space got tight, prompting a search for that permanent new home, a place close to the center of Derry that would offer better space to serve its clients. Sonshine moved to its current location on Crystal Avenue in 2017 after a successful "Build to Feed" fundraising effort garnered much community support for the new space.
Right now, the soup kitchen has teams of volunteers representing schools, churches, businesses and organizations from all over the region who come to prepare and serve meals.
Some have come for years — others are more new at the soup kitchen schedule.
Lloyd Wagoner has volunteered at Sonshine for over 10 years and is also Sonshine's president of the board of directors.
The meal space means a lot, Wagoner said, recalling earlier years when his team, representing Orchard Christian Fellowship, brought younger members of the church to the soup kitchen to help.
That effort, Wagoner said, gave youth the opportunity to witness service and make a difference in the lives of the soup kitchen guests.
"We feel thankful to have the opportunity," Wagoner said. "We see the same people, form relationships."
Fudala said those individuals and families come to eat, share their stories, or sit quietly as they enjoy a meal.
She is thankful for what the volunteers do every day, and also for the support of the greater Derry community and beyond.
"It's amazing to see the work that goes into it," she said, "the staff, the board, the volunteers."
The volunteers are not just cooking a meal, they are also sharing themselves with guests in whatever capacity someone might want.
"(Guests) are served with love and dignity," Fudala said.
With the help and support of many — including donors, volunteers, and others who make supporting Sonshine a priority — it's a mission that will continue, she added.
"On behalf of the board of directors, and myself, thank you for your support to end hunger in our community," Fudala said.
In addition to daily meals, Sonshine hosts a free clothing ministry. Donations are always welcome daily from 1 to 6 p.m. Personal care items are also welcome as well as food donations and volunteer help.
Fudala said Sonshine offers a safe, faith-based place for people to eat and have hope.
"As long as God wants me here, I'll be here," she said. "Hopefully, we can continue with community support to be a blessing on all these people."