This past March, Moab’s Episcopal Church of St. Francis began hosting a free community lunch every Thursday. The meal is a revival of a similar practice the church held in the 1980s. When Father Dave Sakrison (former mayor of Moab) wanted to revive the custom, he turned to Yvonne Bliss.
“Father Dave handed me this article that he had in his files—because they had done this back in the ‘80s,” Bliss said. “So he handed me the article and he says, ‘What do you think about this?’”
Bliss has lived in Moab for over twenty-five years, but she is originally from the Netherlands. She thinks she knows why Sakrison singled her out.
“I’m kind of one of those typical Dutch people,” she said. “You give me a project, and I’m on it.”
Bliss mobilized the “ladies guild,” a group that undertakes church projects. The women buy ingredients for soup and make it at home, then bring it to the church kitchen on Thursday mornings to heat up and serve with a slice of bread to whoever shows up between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. The meal is open to anyone. Sometimes church members attend; others come because they need food assistance or a place to come in out of the cold. Others just come for the companionship. Diners sit together at tables in the church meeting area and enjoy each others’ company along with their soup.
“It’s become quite a fun thing to see all the people interact,” Bliss said. “It warms your heart, really, to see people coming and talking with one another, getting to know one another.”
Turnout was small at the first few soup lunches, but now that the word is out, Bliss said, it’s not unusual for thirty or forty people to come.
“It’s for the community,” she said. “We want people out there to come in. And we don’t proselytize. That’s not what it’s all about. It’s literally to help the people out there that stop by and have a bowl of soup.”
Shane Griffin has been coming to the soup lunches since the first one.
“I only miss it because of dentist and doctor appointments,” he said.
Griffin found out about the meal from a flyer at the library and decided to give it a try.
That decision, Griffin said, has worked out in more ways than one.
“It got me involved in the church,” he said, “and then the church got me new teeth.”
One day when Griffin was at St. Francis, he had a painful toothache, and a church member offered to help him get dental work. That offer initiated a community effort. Various individuals and organizations contributed to help Griffin access dental care, including the Lions’ Club, the Multicultural Center, Sarah Melnicoff of Moab Solutions and several church members. Church members also gave him rides to the dentist’s office in Green River, and now his teeth are in better shape.
Griffin helps set up, serve, and clean up at the soup lunches every week.
“It’s a nice group of people,” he said of the church community. “They help me out, and I help them out, and it works out.”
Around the same time the soup lunch program began, St. Francis also started hosting a food pantry, which is open during the same time as the soup lunch and also on Fridays from 5 to 7 p.m.
Right now, Bliss is working on creating a free food exchange box modeled after the “Free Little Library” on the church’s property.
Bliss recalled a recent group of soup lunch attendees who wanted to show their appreciation by giving back to the church. Six men came in for a bowl of soup and stayed to chat with the servers.
“They immediately offered to help,” Bliss said.
A week later, she needed help unloading a truck that was making a food delivery for the pantry, so she took the men up on their offer, and all of them came through.
“They gave me their phone number and said, ‘If you need help, call.’ So I did, and there they were,” Bliss said. “It’s really nice. There are a lot of good folks, believe it or not.”
Bliss enjoys meeting and serving the community at the soup lunches.
“So far it’s worked out really well, it’s been a fun project,” she said. “We’re giving back. It feels good to give—it does, it feels good.”