DECATUR — When leaders from First and Grace United Methodist churches, as well as First and Westminster Presbyterian churches founded the Good Samaritan Inn in 1982, their mission was simple, director Brenda Gorrell Pyatt said.
“They wanted to feed the hungry and address a community need,” Pyatt said. “I think they thought the Good Samaritan Inn would be a temporary fix for the community, and I bet they had no idea it would be around today.”
The Good Samaritan Inn, 920 N. Union St., marked 30 years of feeding those in need Wednesday, and while Pyatt said she was hesitant to recognize the occasion “because we don’t want to celebrate hunger,” she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to thank the soup kitchen’s board of directors, volunteers and community members who have supported the ministry over the years.
“I just want to thank everyone for their time, effort and talents,” she said Wednesday afternoon, addressing volunteers, supporters and patrons. “We have 45 churches and 18 community groups and organizations that provide volunteers and donate food, and we’re very blessed.”
Board Vice President Randy McGeehon said hunger is a community need that, sadly, has grown over the past 30 years.
“When we started in 1982, we served 11 meals our first day,” he said, noting that by 1993, the soup kitchen was serving 120 people a day. “Today, we feed more than 300 people each day on average. … Our mission today, like 30 years ago, is to feed the hungry and disadvantaged, and we’re glad to be here for the community.”
Community members Shawn and LaDawne Tindall are grateful for the Good Samaritan Inn.
“We’ve been coming here for about nine years, on and off,” said Shawn Tindall, as he, LaDawne, and their three children, Dylan, Victoria and Ethan, enjoyed a meal Wednesday.
Victims of a fire and tough economic times, the Tindalls said the Good Samaritan Inn has been a blessing for them.
“I owned an apartment building, and it caught on fire about two years ago,” Shawn Tindall said. “We lost just about everything.”
“That’s when we really started coming here,” LaDawne Tindall said. “The kids always eat well when we come here, and we’re grateful.”
“The best part is the good food that we eat,” said Victoria, 8, spearing a small piece of lasagna with her fork.
Shawn Tindall agreed.
“It’s great that they (the Good Samaritan Inn) have been around 30 years,” he said. “I’m glad we have blessings like this around here.”
James Woodland said he and his three children have been coming to Good Samaritan for about four years and appreciate the balanced meals they get there, as well.
“The kids like to come and eat here, and Wednesdays are our favorites because they serve pasta that day,” he said. “People need a place to eat sometimes, and it’s nice that they’re here to help the community.”
Sue Jacobs of Decatur, who’s been volunteering at the soup kitchen through New Day Community Church for about 25 years, said it feels good to help those in need.
“The best part of volunteering is helping people and feeding the hungry,” she said, noting that she and other church members typically volunteer at the soup kitchen once a month.
“It (volunteering) gives you a good perspective,” added volunteer Dotty Fouse, noting that she and Jacobs normally help prepare and serve the food. “It makes you grateful for what you have, and for the most part, people who come here are very appreciative.”
Volunteering has been integral for the Good Samaritan’s board of directors, too.
“I belong to the Forsyth Sunrise Rotary Club, and I got involved with the Good Samaritan Inn when the Rotary began cooking for them every fifth Friday,” said newly elected board member Pam Poland as she helped serve cake and ice cream to patrons in honor of Good Samaritan’s 30 years. “It’s humbling and fulfilling to help feed the hungry, and although it’s sad we’ve needed to (fulfill this need) for so long, it’s amazing to see the generosity from the community.”
Volunteer and board member Jim Beckhart, who’s been tied to Good Samaritan for 10 years, said being on the board is just another way to contribute to Good Samaritan and help the community.
“I believe in the mission and cause of the Good Samaritan Inn, and I’m happy to see that people are continuing to take the baton and run with it to help keep this going.”
As the need for food and meals has grown and evolved over the years, so has the Good Samaritan Inn. Originally serving three midday meals a week in the basement of the Salvation Army in 1982, the ministry expanded to five days a week at 151 S. Water St. later that year.
In 1985, the Good Samaritan Inn relocated to 543 N. Water St. and operated there for 25 years, expanding to seven days in 2005, and in 2010, it moved to its current, 12,000-square-foot facility.
“This is a $2.1 million building,” said Pyatt, noting that although Good Samaritan was able to pay off the debt on its new building in January, it is in need of monetary donations to keep the facility and its staff members up and running.
“We’re very lucky to have great volunteers and people who donate food,” Pyatt continued, “but we’re really just in desperate need of money to keeps the lights on.”
She noted that while most businesses and organizations hope to stay in business, the goal of the Good Samaritan Inn is quite the opposite.
“Our goal is to go out of business,” she said with a laugh. “But until that happens, we appreciate everything (the community and volunteers) do for us.”