SCOTTSBLUFF, Iowa — The vehicles started lining up on the street next to Gering’s United Methodist Church on May 6 at around 4:30 p.m., but this was not unusual.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, those in the vehicles would park and come inside. Since so many places were closed and social distancing became necessary, the line now forms every Wednesday.

“There is a place to eat every night,” volunteer Shirley Potter said as she organized the team of volunteers preparing the meal for the soup kitchen.

About six volunteers gathered in the church’s kitchen to prepare a meal, package it and give it out to anyone who is in need.

“We found out a long time ago that there is a real need for this in our community,” volunteer Melvin Shockley told the Star-Herald as he stirred the meat. Shockley also serves on the Scottsbluff/Gering Soup Kitchen Board.

The first meal was served by Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in 1984 under the leadership of Margaret Tucker. The Methodist and Presbyterian Churches soon joined.

“I’ve been involved since 1995,” Shockley said.

Potter and fellow volunteer Kathi Yost have been involved for over 15 years.

“I’m not here every Wednesday,” Yost said, “Shirley is here every Wednesday.”

Even when the pandemic hit and many canceled activities, Potter and the others kept serving.

“The need is even bigger now (with the pandemic),” Potter said.

Serving is an outreach ministry for the churches involved.

“This is what Jesus would do,” Yost said.

“The Bible tells us to feed the people,” Shockley added. “If we meet peoples’ physical needs, maybe later we can meet their spiritual needs.”

For many, if it wasn’t for the soup kitchen they might not have a meal, but it is not just for those in need. It is available to anyone.

Before the soup kitchen had to become a drive through many would come for the fellowship, volunteer Jay Merritt said.

“It’s not just food,” he said. “People who come every week there is fellowship with each other. There is community.”

With the pandemic, the fellowship around a table is gone, but even with the church buildings closed, the meals were not going to stop. Instead of the people coming through a line inside the church to get a meal, the volunteers now take the meals outside. One by one the people come through a drive-thru.

Those in line will hold up their fingers telling the volunteers how many meals they need, Shockley said. The volunteers then deliver the needed meals to the people’s car.

“When it started out it was just soup,” Potter said. “Tonight, we are serving taco salads.”

Each of the churches involved today, which numbers over a dozen, will come up with their own menu. The hamburger is donated and the Gering Bakery donates bread, sometimes, donuts. Each church covers the cost of the rest of the meal they plan to serve.

Donations have been given to the soup kitchens by the United Way, Hoops of Heroes and many others.

“We have 10 cars in line,” Shockley said after making a trip outside shortly before 5:15 p.m.

“Let’s start,” Potter said.

The volunteers headed outside and the people began coming through the line.

“This is really nice,” Leonard LeMont said as he received meals for his loved ones. “It provides for the community.”

“It’s a very good thing, very kind and caring,” Byron Peterson said, having received a meal.