A few arrived on bikes, several drove cars, but most came on foot.
More than 100 people came for a hot meal with scores of homemade dessert choices — men, women and lots of children who might otherwise go hungry that day.
Statesboro First United Methodist Church, referred to by many locals as FUMC, hosts a soup kitchen every Saturday from noon to 1 p.m. for those in need of a meal. Local churches and civic groups take turns providing the food.
But one constant for the event stands at the back door, greeting everyone who enters the building.
Arnold Stephens, First United Methodist’s custodian for 10 years, has hardly missed a Saturday during that decade.
“I’m here every Saturday. I don’t like missing. When I’m not here, they ask where I am,” he said.
Stephens shakes hands, smiles, speaks to each person and calls many by name.
“This is a blessing to all of them. I like seeing the kids the best,” he continued, while pressing the button on his clicker to keep count of those attending.
Stephens left his post twice on a recent Saturday: to set up more tables and to turn up the air conditioner.
On this particular Saturday, Statesboro New Covenant Church brought hot dogs, potato salad, chips, fresh fruit, and gobs of cakes, cookies and dessert bars.
A dozen Georgia Southern University students from Dr. Alice Hall’s diversity class, most majoring in child and family development, helped New Covenant serve the attendees.
In addition to those who show up in person for a meal, 150 residents of the Summit are served each week, with take-outs delivered by the sponsoring party. The second Saturday of each month, Fletcher Memorial Baptist Church prepares and delivers the Summit meals.
“Fletcher spends a lot of time with the residents when they deliver the meals and really get to know the people,” said Sara Melford, FUMC’s soup kitchen facilitator.
Terri Mason, New Covenant Church’s soup kitchen coordinator, said her church’s members love this ministry and look forward to serving when it’s their turn. They’ll minister three times at the soup kitchen this calendar year.
“I tell the volunteers, ‘Mingle, get to know people, pray with them, offer to refill their drinks,’” Mason said. “We like to treat people with love and respect.”
Jason Protzman, the youth pastor at New Covenant, served that day, alongside his teenage daughter.
“I love to sit and talk with them,” Protzman said. “I pick out a table with three or four visitors and love on them. I try to get their spirits up and give them some dignity.”
Mason believes those from her church who volunteer are equally blessed by serving. A single mom with 17- and 19-year-old daughters, Mason said: “When my daughters serve here, they realize how blessed they are. They say, ‘Thank you, Mom.’”
Melford lines up the volunteers for the year and checks on them almost every Saturday.
“I knew about soup kitchens in the inner cities when I lived up north,” she said. “I’d always wanted to do this, and once I retired from teaching, I was able to finally do it.”
Each group serves in a different manner. Some entertain with music, like New Covenant did, and many provide a short message or devotion, also like New Covenant.
But all provide sustenance, love and compassion -- food for the body and soul.