TIFTON -- People were served a meal of lemon-pepper chicken, green beans, macaroni and cheese, doughnuts and tea Tuesday at the new location of the Tiftarea Soup Kitchen in the Neighborhood Service Center (NSC) on South Central Avenue. The United Way of South Central Georgia agency recently relocated to the NSC from Luther's House at 211 W. Fourth St.

"People may think we have soup every day, but we don't," said Sarah Bennett, director of the Soup Kitchen. "We'll be cooking chili for Wednesday's meal."

Bennett said Tuesday's lunch crowd was somewhat slim, but she believes once the word is out that meals are served at the NSC, the number of people taking advantage of the service will increase. An average of 50 to 60 people, young and old, are served meals each day, Bennett said.

"Around Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is sometimes over 100 per day," Bennett said.

Meals are served at the NSC 11:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Carol Johnson, United Way executive director, said 10,000 meals were served through the program last year and that number is expected to grow this year.

"It is through the generosity of the Tift County Board of Commissioners, Roger Dill and Darrell Wiggins that we are able to provide the space for the program at the Neighborhood Service Center," Johnson said. "Space was at a premium at Luther's House."

Johnson said volunteers are always needed to help prepare and serve the daily lunch meal and, since the Food Bank shares food to prepare the meals, donations of cash or non-perishable food items are always appreciated.

Johnson distributed a flyer last week to most local churches asking members to donate canned goods to benefit the food bank and the kitchen. The "Souper Bowl Champ" program encourages people to collect the goods on Feb. 1, the day of the National Football League's championship game. Donations will be collected the week after the game.

"We need to replenish our pantry following the holiday season when so many families have been served by this organization," Johnson said.

Anyone who wishes to participate in the food drive can call the United Way office at 382-2881. Someone will meet donors at the soup kitchen or the goods may be dropped off at the United Way office at 214 Tift Ave.

To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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