Fairmont Chamber Ambassadors commemorate the opening of The Shepherd's In Soup Kitchen at the Pioneer Parsonage, 304 E. Blue Earth Ave. in Fairmont.
BY NIKKI MEYER
The mission statement for The Shepherd’s In Soup Kitchen is To provide nourishment for the body, food for the soul, words for eternal life, and hope for a future. For founder Curtis Moeckel, the creation of that statement, and the desire behind it, has been years in the making.
“When people think of a soup kitchen they think of the homeless and those in great need,” said Moeckel. While “it’s there for that,” what Moeckel really wants to provide for people is “a hand up, not a handout.” Moeckle conceived of the idea for a soup kitchen several years ago after serving on the board of Heaven’s Table Food Shelf. While he got the ball rolling, he said he now feels more like a “lightning rod”—someone to connect needs and solutions.
Several years ago, Moeckel was praying and asked the Lord, “What can I do?” He said the response he heard was, “Open a soup kitchen.” He thought about it a lot, looked for possible locations, but the idea didn’t really go anywhere until finally, at the point of desperation, Moeckel decided that the only way it would go somewhere was if he took action. He started to get serious about forming his vision of what his soup kitchen would be like.
Then at the end of last August, Moeckel was on Facebook and saw a church in Faribault was closing its doors. It had 90 chairs which were to be auctioned off. He thought someday I’m going to need 90 chairs, but also wondered where am I going to put them? He figured that if God provided the chairs he’d also provide a place to store them.
He reached out to a representative at the church at 10:30 on a Friday morning. Bidding was to start at noon, and there was no way he could be there in time. He offered up the $180 he had saved for the project, which was accepted, and then contacted a friend who was able to go and pay for the chairs. “John,” he said to his friend on the phone, “I need you to be my hands and feet for a little while.”
When ckel got the call from his friend John confirming the deal had been squared away, John had some unexpected news. “I had to make an executive decision,” Moeckel recalls hearing over the phone. In addition to 90 chairs, John and his wife had agreed to also purchase and donate the 20 matching tables, along with some highback chairs and tables. “I finally took a step of action and it felt like God said, Ok, now I’ll take a step of action.” Moeckel said.
Finding himself the new owner of a lot of chairs and tables, he also found himself with a transportation problem. Everything had to be cleared out of the building the next day. Moeckel called around looking for a trailer, anticipating it would take several trips to haul everything.
Then he got another phone call. The woman he had spoken to at the church said someone was hosting a backyard wedding and wanted to rent all of the tables and chairs. Suddenly Moeckel had an extra week to work out a transportation plan.
While looking for a trailer, Moeckel spoke with his friend Dahmon Gullord, who is the manager of the Five Lakes Centre in Fairmont. Gullord asked where he was going to store everything, then offered up a space Moeckel could use.
When it was time to pick everything up, Moeckel was able to find a trailer that be able to haul everything in one trip. The woman, Nicole Miller, who had rented the items for the wedding, asked him what he was going to use them for. When he explained his vision for a soup kitchen, and to someday work with foster care and adoption services, she said she wanted to be a part of launching the kitchen. Miller currently has two adopted children and is fostering two more. “Everything just felt like confirmation that I was on the right path,” Moeckel said.
Down to Business
With tables and chairs marked off his list, Moeckel felt it was time to start working on some of the other pieces necessary to make his vision a reality. He formed a board of directors who shared his vision, and they hammered out the mission statement, incorporated the business, applied for 501c3 non-profit status and, finally, woked on a date for serving the first meal. The only problem was, they still didn’t have a location.
After doing some reasearch, the group found the Martin County Historical Society’s parsonage on Blue Earth Ave. The society agreed to let Moeckel use the space for free as a gesture of good will. Finally, with all of the details squared away, Moeckel and a team of volunteers served their first meal on December 29.
More Than Just a Meal
“Everybody has needs,” Moeckel said. “Some have a need to give and some have a need to receive. When you put those two things together, you have solutions.” That is Moeckel’s true vision for his occasional soup kitchen.
“A guy that came to the soup kitchen who is dealing with some health issues with his brother and is having a hard time financially...he said I don’t necessarily need another meal I just need people who can help me find the path that I need to be walking on so I can better my life.” When he heard that, Moeckel thought This is exactly the guy we’re creating this for.
Moeckel sees a great need in Fairmont. He said there are activities and place for senior citizens to go and activities and places for youth to go, yet “there’s a whole group of people between the ages of like 25 and 55—there’s really no place [for them]” Except a bar. “I’ve come to find out there are a lot of people in the area that are single parents... who have a job that can barely pay their bills. They’re living check to check. They can’t just call up one of their friends and say Hey, let’s go have a night on the town. By the time you do that, you’ve spent $50-$75 bucks. There are a lot of people, a lot of people who can’t do that.”
Moeckel sees that group of people as being one he can really serve. “I want to create this place where people can get a free meal and gather, hang out and have fellowship.”
Moeckel chose the name The Shepherd’s In to show that he wanted his soup kitchen to be a place where Jesus, the “good shepherd”, was present. He has selected Bible verses in prominent places at each of the meals. He cited Isaiah 55:11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. “I don’t know what the purpose is and it’s not my business. My business is to make it available and God will take care of it from there.” Moeckel said, along with, “I just want to introduce people to my best friend.”
To Give is to Receive
Moeckel said that as more people find out about his project, more continue to ask how they can help.
“When people think of a soup kitchen they think of the homeless and those in great need... It is there for that but it’s also designed to give believers a place to flesh out their faith... I’m in church with all my church people, but I never really felt like I was doing anything. So this—I have all these people have contacted me and said What can we do? We want to get involved, we want to help you and the reason they want to do this is they have the same desire I do. They want to do something in the name of Jesus to give back because they’ve been given to.”
Hope for the Future
Moekel hopes that everyone who visits The Shepherd’s In will leave not only full of food, but full of hope. “I want to be able to create hope for a future, that... having come to the soup kitchen I want them to leave with the idea that they have hope. So many people today don’t have hope—they’re almost hopeless.” And that, in essence, sums up Moeckel’s mission. “I figured one person at a time we’ll try to create hope for a future.”
The Shepherd’s In Soup Kitchen will host its next meal on Saturday, February 9 from noon - 2:00 p.m. in the Historical Society’s Pioneer Parsonage at 304 E. Blue Earth Ave. in Fairmont. You can find more information on The Shepherd’s In Facebook page or by calling (507) 236-5362. Rides may be available.
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