LARAMIE, Wyo. — The kitchen in the basement of St. Matthew's Cathedral is steamy and redolent with boiling onions, mushrooms and beef.
As they do six mornings a week, volunteers for the Laramie Soup Kitchen are busy chopping vegetables, mixing salads and stirring a large pot of soup. They'll cook until 11:30 a.m., when they'll open the doors to the hungry people who rely on the kitchen for a warm meal.
The volunteers — members of local churches — start each morning by sorting through boxes of food donated by grocery stores. Much of the food is expired fruit and vegetables, and the volunteers cull what is usable to make a meal that can feed 50. Other food is donated by the public or bought through grants.
Each day, the available ingredients change, and so does the menu.
Just because the soup kitchen meals are free doesn't mean they aren't tasty.
Thursday, leeks and mushrooms were sautéed into a side dish, while raspberries were mixed into a vinaigrette for the spinach salad.
"The secret ingredient is pretty much everything," said Lorinda O'Hashi as she sliced portabello mushrooms into strips.
It would be trite to say that each meal is cooked with a pinch of love, but these volunteers do bring an element of love to their work.
After all, they're giving their time to provide one of the basic needs for human survival through the "food ministry."
"The aim is to make sure they have a good, nutritional meal," said Sherry Davis, who works at the kitchen five days a week. "For some people, this is the only hot meal they'll eat all day."
Among the soup kitchen's clientele are kids who can't eat at the school cafeteria during the summer, young families having trouble making ends meet and elderly widowers who don't have the means to cook for themselves. Down-and-out travelers and college kids also stop by.
"A lot of these people have become very good friends. I see them around town, and we know each other by name," Davis said. "Just because certain circumstances in life bring them here doesn't make them any less of a person."
The volunteers said that while cooking for large groups of people can be a real chore, they actually enjoy working at the soup kitchen. It's a spiritually fulfilling kind of work.
"I believe in the soup kitchen," said volunteer Naomi Nottage, who explained that there have been times in her life when she, too, has needed a helping hand.
"I feel good when I do it," said volunteer Carol Uhl. "I don't even know why. If nobody said, 'Thank you,' I'd still do it."