Greg Soules has a unique way of initiating conversations. He hands out recipes to those he meets, then concludes the conversation by telling how good God is.
Soules is a retired schoolteacher. We have been friends for several years, although we see each other infrequently. But there is much about him I did not know.
Soules was raised on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in central Oregon. “My twin brother and I had to take summer school to catch up on reading skills,” says Soules. “I wanted to be a teacher but didn’t realize at that young age that I would have to read to my students—up front,” he says with a grin. He became a teacher anyway.
Soules has other activities that take up his time now, though. He loves working with rocks—finding the “picture within”—and making guitar picks out of them. And he volunteers a lot.
He volunteers at Heaven’s Helper Soup Café in Bismarck, North Dakota, Monday through Friday, except on Tuesdays when he volunteers at the Mandan County Courthouse. He fingerprints anyone who needs or wants the service.
But those are not the only places he volunteers. He also volunteers at Sanford Health Hospital in the dialysis unit, helps at his friend’s hotdog stand (so he can have a little break now and then), and stops on his way home from volunteering to cheer on his friends who need encouragement.
Soules says Heaven’s Helper Soup Café is a fun place to volunteer. “You do not need any special skills. Just be willing to work,” he explains. “They train you and help you. They are fun people to work with.”
I want to work for the Lord
Heaven’s Helper Soup Café started in 2008 when Mark Meier told his boss, “I want to work for the Lord. I don’t know what He wants me to do but I am giving you my resignation.”
Meier prayed for guidance, but nothing developed until his brother-in-law said to him, “You know, that empty place downtown would make a good soup kitchen.”
Meier says, “When I said ‘No,’ the Lord checked me.” Meier started the café feeding the homeless in March 2009. He has not had to shop for groceries since July of that year.
“People bring truckloads of food; one or two trucks a day,” says Soules. “Sometimes stores bring excess items.” People, businesses and groups have consistently donated. The café serves two meals: lunch and supper.
Soules explains that Meier makes sandwiches and soups out of whatever food is available. “There is the sandwich of the day and two soups,” says Soules. “He also has a salad bar and desserts. The people get treated very, very well.”
Cooking from the heart
Soules starts work between 7 and 7:30 am and works until 1 or 2 pm. “Mark [Meier] walks in and sees what is available, then decides what to cook. He doesn’t use recipes. He cooks from the heart,” Soules says.
Soules is one of 35 volunteers at the soup café, which feeds about 350 people a day. “It is very fun to volunteer here. Volunteers include high school kids all the way up to grandpas and grandmas.”
When asked what he does at the café, Soules says he does whatever needs to be done. “Chopping vegetables, shoveling the sidewalks, or if the floors need to be swept, that’s what I do. There is room for everybody who has some kind of talent and an inclination to work. We make a lot of sandwiches and a lot of soup. We have a good time. It is very spiritual here,” he explains.
“At 11 am, [Meier] has prayer and opens the door. Then the people come in to be fed,” says Soules. Meier then locks the doors at 7 pm. “That is what he does day in and day out.” And that is what Soules does as well, along with his many other volunteer jobs.
Many businesspeople come to the soup kitchen to eat and make a donation. “It is good food, as good as any restaurant food,” says Soules. It is good for the clients to interact with a variety of people.”
All kinds of good food and good fellowship
I was able to visit the soup café for a meal and to take some photos. Meier cooked a butternut squash soup, which Soules and I enjoyed together. Soules commented, “I don’t even like squash, but this is good.”
He mentioned to Meier that the soup was delicious. “And you helped,” said Meier. “Remember all that garlic you chopped?” Soules smiled and said to me, “All kinds of good food and good fellowship.”