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February 13. 2013 11:14PM

Derry's Sonshine Soup Kitchen feeding the hungry but feeling cramped


Cynthia Dwyer, executive director of the Sonshine Soup Kitchen in Derry, shows off some of the tight storage quarters at the charity's current location. (ADAM SWIFT PHOTO)

DERRY - For 23 years, the Sonshine Soup Kitchen has been serving free, hot meals five days per week to all those in need from the kitchen of the First Baptist Church.

However, when it comes time to serve those meals, it's not the most efficient method for those staff members and hundreds of volunteers who have donated time, money and goods to the soup kitchen over the years.

While the kitchen is at the church, the soup kitchen rents out space for its offices and storage in the neighboring building at 4 Crystal Avenue.

Through any weather, according to executive director Cynthia Dwyer, volunteers and staff wheel hand trucks filled with food and supplies for that day's meal to the church kitchen.

Now, the Sonshine Soup Kitchen is reaching out to individuals and businesses in the community as it begins a fundraising campaign to move into a permanent home under one roof.

The soup kitchen has received a $50,000 grant to get that process under way, but it has to raise $50,000 in matching funds by the end of March in order to use that money.

"Keeping up the food stock is a challenge," Dwyer said of the current storage area.

She said the soup kitchen receives a large portion of its food donations during the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas and has to find room to store it for the remainder of the year.

"At the holidays, it's like going food shopping once a year, and we have to make space," Dwyer said. "The volunteers and staff need elbow room."

The need for space and a better flow affect everything the soup kitchen does. Through the first month of the year, Dwyer said the soup kitchen has served an average of 48 meals per day. In addition, it also provides a number of other services, including clothing for those in need.

Unfortunately, according to Dwyer, the soup kitchen has to limit what it can keep for free clothing donations because of a lack of space. That clothing closet is also located in the soup kitchen's main office, where volunteers and donations are coming in and out during the day.

Ralph Valentine, of The Valentine Group in Londonderry, is helping with the Build to Feed fundraising campaign.

Valentine said he is hoping to approach local businesses for donations, and is also helping the Sonshine Soup Kitchen find a new home that meets all its criteria.

"There has been a huge effort in town, and it has been growing quickly, especially over the last week," Valentine said. "The challenge is to find a bigger and better layout that is all under one roof."

Valentine said he has been looking at properties that are available to see how they stack up to what the soup kitchen needs, as well as looking at properties that meet the criteria that may not necessarily be available at the moment.

Possibly the biggest requirement of the new location is that it is within walking distance of where the kitchen now operates, Dwyer said.

"We are going to stay in Derry and in the downtown area," she said. "It's very important, because as many as 50 percent of the people walk here."

Those who want to donate or find out more information about the Build to Feed fundraising effort can visit the charity's website at www.sonshinesoupkitchen.org.


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