Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of stories about congregations engaged in significant outreach and evangelism ministries, reflecting the General Assembly’s commitment to “Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide.” — Jerry L. Van Marter
The Ladle and Hearth in Ambridge, Pa., appears to be a typical local soup kitchen, but a closer look reveals that it is much more.
The Ladle and Hearth, a project originated in the Beaver-Butler Presbytery offices and hosted by Ambridge United Presbyterian Church, strives to be a full-service ministry for people and families in the area.
Ambridge United has hosted the program since it began in 2005, but the Rev. John Dickey, pastor of the church and board member of The Ladle, said that the organization is an independent operation. Although it’s housed at Ambridge United, it includes churches from several denominations and organizations and volunteers from all aspects of the community.
“More than 25 churches and organizations have taken turns providing a meal through the years,” Dickey said. “This is supported by contributions from other churches, organizations and individuals. We have some very supportive donors that keep the program going.”
The program began when a staffer at Beaver Butler Presbytery noticed that there was no place in Ambridge where those in need could get a hot meal. Ambridge United was asked to host the program, and Beaver Butler Presbytery was among the first supporters, contributing an emerging missions grant to help launch the operation.
“I am happy with how the program has worked out and pleased to see it get some of the recognition it deserves,” said Alan Adams, executive presbyter, through his office.
Every Monday evening except for Labor Day and Memorial Day, The Ladle offers a free hot meal open to anyone in the community. Contributing churches and organizations take turns serving the meal. Each provides all the food when it is their turn to serve.
“It works out to about two or three times per year for each group to serve,” said Dickey. “Some do like to do it more often. There are some that serve the meal as many as five times in a year.”
Dickey estimated The Ladle gets about 70-75 visitors per week and said that the two busiest weeks are the Monday before Thanksgiving and the Monday before Christmas. For the past two years, The Ladle has also served a Christmas Day meal.
Christmas provides another opportunity for The Ladle. The Presbyterian Church, Sewickley, one of the participating churches, hosts the Bethlehem Bazaar, a fundraising sale for mission organizations. The bazaar has become a great source for The Ladle — Dickey estimated it has raised about $1,500 annually.
Dickey said he’s not sure if the slumping economy has increased the need for services from The Ladle, but twice last year it served more than 100 visitors — a record high.
Dickey also said that The Ladle has expanded from the meal offering to trying to help people in other ways.
“We did clothing for awhile, but that turned out to be a pretty large undertaking,” he said. “We don’t do it here anymore, but we refer our visitors to another outreach program that focuses on clothing.
“We’ve also been able to help out with food for our visitors too,” Dickey said. “Lately we’ve been getting bread gived, so we’ve been able to give them a free loaf of bread to take with them.”
The Ladle has also been able to provide shelter on occasion as well as some limited financial aid to help out with rent or utilities.
“We, like so many in other communities, are working to serve God and his people,” said Aida Dugan, coordinator for The Ladle.
Toni Montgomery is a freelance writer in Statesville, N.C., where she also serves as church secretary for First Presbyterian Church.