As Debbie Leatherman started speaking Tuesday, a vast collection of impoverished, homeless and hungry people starting “shushing” a murmuring crowd. They wanted to hear her speak.
To the comforting aroma of vegetables and soup, buttery toast and cheese, Leatherman addressed the large crowd and did what she does every day — mother the needy.
“Do we have anyone whose birthday it is today?” asked Leatherman, who manages The Corner Table in Newton.
More than 100 heads twisted around the room until a hand rose from the crowd, and the face of an elderly black woman appeared.
“We’ve got one birthday!” Leatherman threw her arms up in the air. The room erupted with applause. “One birthday! Happy birthday!”
The woman’s smile radiated heat that surely warmed the soup, tugging out smiles from strangers around the room.
It’s memories and happenings like this that have drawn the area’s less fortunate to the corner of North Main Avenue and W. 2nd Street in downtown Newton for the past 10 years.
They come to eat, but they get something more. Family, and love, happens at The Corner Table.
10 years of service
In the spring of 2001, the Rev. Beth Lilly had an idea.
After meeting with a board member of the Hickory Soup Kitchen, the area’s only soup kitchen at the time, Lilly found out that the Hickory kitchen was serving 35-40 Newton-Conover residents every day. Dozens of local residents — already stricken by poverty — had to travel nearly 20 miles across the county just to eat.
Clearly noticing a need in the Newton area, Lilly approached different men and women in the community, who liked the idea of providing food closer to home.
The group went to different area organizations, including the Newton-Conover Rotary Club, and found a place to set up shop in a Boy Scout hut behind Beth Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church in Newton.
On Jan. 8, 2002, the group served nine people at the scout hut.
“The first day we had it, we didn’t know if people were going to come,” said Jeanette Davis, who was part of the original group who helped at the kitchen. “We started with the idea, though, that we are not going to reject anyone.”
Bruce Prestwood, who was part of that original group, also remembers the small numbers at first. Prestwood, a retired police officer, even used his authority to help people eat.
“I went around, rounded them up and brought them to eat,” he said laughing.
Yet, the population the group was serving was quickly growing, and in 2003, the group moved to its current location at 122 N. Main Ave. in Newton. The Corner Table was born.
Now, The Corner Table is celebrating its 10th anniversary of feeding the area's less fortunate.
Acting as an official non-profit organization, the kitchen serves lunch from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. It also provides a bag meal for visitors for Friday.
It’s a soup kitchen ministry, one that Lilly says would not be able to function without the great volunteers it has had over the years.
“There is so much support in the community,” Lily said, adding that the group uses more than 150 volunteers.
She said, under the direction of Leatherman, The Corner Table is more than just a soup kitchen.
Jill Caldwell, a Corner Table board member and volunteer, agrees.
“They look to Debbie as their momma,” Caldwell said. “They get food physically, but get a lot of food spiritually as well. They are just one big family.”
Board members, volunteers, area leaders and the area's less fortunate all visited The Corner Table for lunch Tuesday. Volunteers who have given their time for the past 10 years manned their posts once again to serve their fellow people.
Kat Finger is one of those volunteers. Finger, an area resident, helped volunteer the first day The Corner Table served visitors. She said she’s worked every week since then.
“I just love helping people,” she said. “It’s wonderful that we can help all these people and I hope I can keep doing it for a long time.”