Souls Harbor helps homeless find shelter, food, work

Michelle Matos helps serve food at the Souls Harbor soup kitchen. Souls Harbor served 12,524 meals in 2003, an average of 34 meals per day. The shelter also housed 864 adults and 51 children in 2003.

Michelle Matos helps serve food at the Souls Harbor soup kitchen. Souls Harbor served 12,524 meals in 2003, an average of 34 meals per day. The shelter also housed 864 adults and 51 children in 2003.

Jessica MacIntosh

For the homeless, it is a matter of finding a place to stay and a place to eat.

Many homeless individuals can turn to Souls Harbor for guidance. Souls Harbor is a soup kitchen located at 915 S. Main St.

Dr. Art Jones came from Knoxville, Tenn., and founded Souls Harbor in January 1982.

“He decided there was not a shelter in the four-state area,” said Joan Lewis, director. “He worked in shelters in Tennessee, and he saw the need. He saw people on the streets with no place to go and no place to sleep.”

Jones came to Joplin with $100 and rented the space for the soup kitchen. Three beds and a cook stove were donated.

“That’s where Souls Harbor started,” Lewis said.

Lewis said he started shelters in Miami, Baxter Springs, Galena, Neosho and Carthage before Jones’s death 10 years ago. She said these shelters were originally under Souls Harbor.

“(When) my husband and I came on board to be directors, we found it more beneficial to let it be a community effort,” she said. “When you have your headquarters in one town and you’re trying to interest people in another town, they need to have their own board and their own directors in those areas.”

She said the shelters had been given to the communities where they were established.

“They are still going,” Lewis said. “There was a good foundation laid, and the work was needed.”

Lewis and her husband Marvin have been with Souls Harbor since it opened. They have been the directors for eight years.

The shelter receives no state or government funding, Lewis said.

“We are funded totally by donations and community,” she said.

Souls Harbor has chapel services each evening at 6:45 p.m., which is mandatory for residents.

“We do that for the purpose that it’s for people to know who they are helping,” Lewis said. “They can see who they are helping.”

The shelter works with organizations to help the homeless in finding job opportunities.

“You would be surprised by the people who don’t know what is available to them,” Lewis said. “If we can just point them in the right direction, there is lots of help sometimes if people just know where to go.”

Souls Harbor has dormitories where men, women and families are assigned.

There is also a kitchen and dining area where meals are served three times a day – 7 a.m., noon and 5:45 p.m. Some of the food Souls Harbor serves is vegetable soup and turkey and dressing. It is cafeteria-style.

“Most of [the food] is donated to us,” Lewis said.

“We take donated money and buy what we need.”

Souls Harbor served 12,524 meals last year, an average of 34 meals per day.

The food boxes given out to the homeless are not included in the total number of meals.

“We gave out over 1,500 food boxes last year,” Lewis said. “We give out food to people to take home on a daily basis. Maybe if they don’t have food stamps, don’t qualify (for food stamps), don’t have them yet or they are between jobs, then we give them food.”

Also, last year the shelter housed 864 adults, 122 of which were veterans, and 51 children.

At the shelter’s Christmas program, which helps low-income families, there were 422 children present for the program. Souls Harbor also has a school supply program.

“We supplied school supplies to 78 children last year,” Lewis said.

After the residents eat, they each have a chore they must do.

“All the residents have something to do,” Lewis said. “They make their own beds, and there are certain cleaning areas that they do before they go to work or when they come home. Everyone is required to do something that stays here.”

Souls Harbor’s dormitory is open 24 hours a day. Although the doors are locked at 10 p.m. for security reasons, there is a doorbell, Lewis said.

“Lots of times the police pick up someone along the road that is homeless or finds someone sleeping in a car … they bring them, and we let them in,” she said.

Lewis said it is important to have a soup kitchen for people so they “have a place to come.”

“There are a lot of people that are temporarily out of work and don’t have enough food,” she said.

Teresa Paul, Souls Harbor secretary, has been with Souls Harbor since 1983.

Before working at the shelter, she had stayed as a resident.

“I remember … it was hard for our family,” Paul said.

She said she had a fight with her mother and ended up staying at the shelter for a while.

“Brother Art (Jones) found out I had gone to school for secretarial work,” Paul said. “The next thing you know, I am working for Brother Art.”

Paul said she learned something from working at Souls Harbor.

“We are all a paycheck away from where everybody can be,” she said. “It can happen to any of us.”

Lewis said she likes being able to help people.

“When someone comes in and doesn’t have a place to stay, to be able to give them a bed, some clean clothes and some food to eat … it’s just a blessing … to do that,” she said.

“It’s a way for me to give back,” Paul said. “We do what we can to serve the Lord and take care of everybody.”

For information about Souls Harbor, volunteering or donating, call the administration building, located at 817 S. Main St., at 623-7927.