Each day, nearly 300 people file through the doors of the Fenwick Street kitchen to eat the noonday meal. For many, it's their only meal of the day.
"When you can't get anything anywhere else, you can come here," said Edward Martin, homeless since the Fifth Street Rooming House closed last month. "A lot of people look forward to it. I know I do."
Hidden behind the downtown post office, Golden Harvest Master's Table Soup Kitchen has fed hundreds daily since 1992.
The hungry gather mid-morning, waiting to say grace at 10:45 a.m.
Inside, food bank volunteers rush between the kitchen and the dining hall to lay out fried chicken, tossed salad, vanilla Bundt cake and iced tea. Outside, a large number of men, a few older women and younger ones with toddlers wait in the sun for the doors to open.
"A lot of them get food stamps and the stamps don't carry them into the next month," said Shyrel Ross, the food bank manager. "We don't close for a day.
"The Lord put all this food here on Earth, why does anybody have to be hungry?" she wondered aloud.
A two-member staff oversees the volunteers who lay out 120 gallons of corn, 120 quarts of salad and 400 pieces of donated chicken by a local restaurant to feed the expected 200 to 300 people, Ms. Ross said. The menu usually changes daily. Leftovers are never wasted, she said.
"We'll save it and serve it the next day," Ms. Ross said. "If it's a vegetable, we chop it up and make soup with it. We use everything."
Most of the food is donated by local restaurants, grocery stores, and residents flooded with leftovers from huge parties or weddings, Ms. Ross said. Groups give $75 each time they volunteer to pay the building's utility bills.
Richmond County State Court Judge David Watkins, one of a dozen volunteers manning the food line, has made this part of his routine each Wednesday for two years.
"I think that Ms. Shyrel is in a good mood today so I'm going to wash down trays," said the apron-wearing judge, toting a rag soaked in Lysol. "Being in touch with real people, dealing with all issues of life helps you keep a balanced perspective," he said. "It keeps me humble."
The bank offers Augusta's downtrodden more than food.
A supply closet is stocked with toothpaste, razors, foot powder, deodorant, shampoo and feminine products, most of which was donated, Ms. Ross said.
"It's a blessing to be here for real," said Mustafa Muhammad, 50.
"For a person who has no where to go, they know that they come to a place like this and get something. It could keep them from stealing, selling dope just to get something to eat."
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