Soup kitchen manager juggles work, family

Annette M. Drowlette/Staff
Shirley Lester stands in the middle of the lunch room at the Master's Table Soup Kitchen, where she cooks for the needy.

Too many times, Shirley Lester has no crew to prepare the meals that Augusta's homeless depend on at the Master's Table Soup Kitchen.


Knowing that the stream of needy who show up daily on the kitchen's doorstep isn't going to stop because of a lack of volunteers, the facility manager arrives at 7:30 a.m. some days to cook and organize the small building for lunch.

"I think she's a saint," said Mike Firmin, the executive director of the Golden Harvest Food Bank, which owns and operates the soup kitchen.

Mrs. Lester has been the soup kitchen manager for four years and has become a resource for dozens in the community facing some sort of crisis, Mr. Firmin said.

"Her first priority is seeing each person as an individual worthy of dignity and respect. ... She's quick to do what Jesus did, leave the 99 sheep and go after the lost," Mr. Firmin said.

Recently, Mrs. Lester said, a woman six months' pregnant was kicked out of the home of her boyfriend's parents because she was of a different race. Mrs. Lester said she worked from afternoon until midnight to find the young woman a safe motel room.

Her drive to help, she explained, isn't necessarily a conscious effort.

"I don't leave the house in the morning saying, 'How many people can I help today?' But when they come, what do you do?" she asked. "No one else is going to help them."

A mother of six whose husband died 11 years ago, Mrs. Lester said she inherited her passion for social and charity work from her grandparents, who were sharecroppers.

She said her grandfather would say, "If you've got a loaf of bread, that gives you 10 sandwiches. You can't eat 10 sandwiches, so you share it."

Mrs. Lester said her other major influences include her mother, her pastor and her church, Word Alive Outreach Ministry.

Having remarried, Mrs. Lester said, it is tough to juggle caring for her family with helping others. But she has found a way to blend the two by involving her family in the social work.

For example, she said, her daughter Christina, who uses a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy, comes to the soup kitchen with her to help.

Mrs. Lester's caring also can take the form of a motherly scold - as when she recently caught Errie Mayes, 63, sipping a beverage concealed in a brown paper bag before sitting down to lunch at the kitchen.

Mr. Mayes said Mrs. Lester is one of the kindest people anyone will ever meet.

"The Father has blessed her with some knowledge, and she's not scared about showing her appreciation," he said.

Reach Justin Boron at (706) 823-3215 or


Age: 42

Family: Husband Charles, 13 natural and adopted children

Profession: Soup kitchen manager and community volunteer

Quote: "I don't leave the house in the morning saying, 'How many people can I help today?' But when they come, what do you do? No one else is going to help them."