Burden for one group becomes asset to another

What was becoming a liability for one organization in Barnwell will soon be an asset to another group.

The American Legion Richardson-Walsh Post 46 in Barnwell owned and operated its own hut, a roughly 2,750-square-foot building on Reynolds Road in Barnwell. Here veterans would have their regular meetings and hold activities.

However, as the veterans group dwindled in numbers, it became harder for them to maintain the building. At one point, the group had to take out a loan to have a new air conditioning unit installed, said Dan Packer, the commandant of Post 46.

ÒWe were falling into debt. We were burdened with the building,Ó he said.

ÒThe only income we had was renting out the building,Ó Packer said.

However, groups that rented the hut in the past often overcrowded the building and events occasionally became raucous and a problem for city police.

ÒWe were unable to police it. It became such a liability that we had to stop that and it withered our income down to nothing,Ó Packer said.

Meanwhile, Barnwell Presbyterian Church, in conjunction with several other churches, has been operating a soup kitchen from the church. Each Thursday for the last four years, the church has ladled out soup or other hot meals for the areaÕs needy, said the Rev. David Turner, the churchÕs pastor.

However, the demand has gotten greater, often straining the capacity of the churchÕs  facilities.

ÒItÕs worked well for us, but itÕs gone beyond us. The need in Barnwell has become so acute,Ó he said.

During a church retreat a year ago, church officials remarked that if Barnwell Presbyterian Church had a bigger facility, it could better serve the community in this capacity as well as in other ways. 

Packer, a church member, said he knew of a building that might suit their needs.

Packer also helps with the soup kitchen.

On Nov. 13, officers from Post 46 signed over ownership of the American Legion hut to the church Ñ a full donation.

The hut sits on 2.1 acres of land. El BAB Shrine Club also donated an adjacent one-acre lot that will be used for parking, Turner said.

ÒIt took a year to get all this done with all the legal work and transferring the deeds over,Ó he said.

 ÒIt was a unanimous decision by the American Legion,Ó Packer said of the transfer. ÒWe took a vote from all the members.Ó

Post 46 has about 25 members on its rolls, although their meetings were only attended by about six to eight veterans, he said.

ÒWe met there until two months ago,Ó Packer said.

One stipulation in the transfer is that Barnwell Presbyterian Church must provide a meeting place for Post 46 veterans, he said.

The Presbyterian church is also helped with the soup kitchen by Barnwell United Methodist Church, Seven Pines Baptist Church, Holy Apostles Episcopal Church and Axis 1 of Barnwell, Turner said.

Barnwell Presbyterian Church will begin renovating the hut within the next two weeks and hopes to have it ready by March, he said.

Beyond the soup kitchen, Turner envisions shower facilities in the hut so it could be used as a possible evacuation center or a place where church work teams, like World Changers, could stay while working on mission projects in the area, he said.

ÒWe are hoping Salvation Army will help us. This will be a ministry center, not a missions center,Ó Turner said.

Turner is looking for restaurant-grade kitchen appliances to equip the hut. He has already acquired used aluminum folding tables he wrangled from Patrick Air Force Base in Florida. Turner is a colonel in the Air Force Reserves.

Also on the land, but now overgrown by young trees and bushes is a picnic area that Turner would like to see used again, he said.

Turner doesnÕt rule out the possibility of renting the hut out again in the future for other groups or churches, but it would be for childrenÕs events or Òfamily-orientedÓ activities, he said.

This Thanksgiving, volunteers served 69 people from noon to 1 p.m., said Evelyn Brubaker, who helps coordinate the soup kitchen for the church.

Brubaker has seen the line of hungry people lengthen in the last few months until they average about 65 people being fed, she said.

ÒItÕs more than doubled. WeÕve seen an increase. It hasnÕt been a slack time,Ó she said.

Many people coming to the soup kitchen take their meal home with them. People can also take additional meals to others in the household, provided they have acquired a card from Axis 1 showing their need in advance. The card shows how many meals they could get, she said.

ÒIf a person (just) comes in off the street, we serve them one meal Ñ we donÕt want them to go away hungry,Ó she said.

ÒI think the Legion hut will really expand our ministry,Ó said Frank Brubaker, her husband.

Brubaker said he only recalls one time when the kitchen ran out of food. Another time the kitchen served 101 hot dogs he cooked.

ÒWe are proud of this thing. ItÕs not a bad building. ItÕs solid,Ó Turner said.