Washington Street celebrates Soup Cellar’s 40th anniversary

COLUMBIA—Washington Street United Methodist Church recognized the 40th anniversary of its Soup Cellar Oct. 20.

The recognition was held in the fellowship hall of the church immediately following the 11 a.m. service.

The Soup Cellar, located on the Marion Street side of Washington Street UMC, feeds 150-200 individuals each weekday in downtown Columbia at no charge. It is completely funded by donations from area churches, organizations and individual donors. As Washington Street maintains no formal budget line item for the Soup Cellar, this ministry depends solely on its donations. Food is obtained at a minimal cost from Harvest Hope Food Bank, through the USDA Commodities Program and the Donated Foods Program. Additional food is purchased through donations.

In 2017, the Soup Cellar was the recipient of the Servant’s Heart Award from the Midlands Area Consortium for Mental Health.

History of the Soup Cellar

On Oct. 15, 1979, 12 beleaguered souls came through open doors to the new Soup Cellar at Washington Street UMC to have lunch. Their visit launched a tradition of ministry to the homeless and to anyone in need in downtown Columbia. Over the years, the Soup Cellar has provided nearly a million meals. During 2018 alone, the Soup Cellar provided more than 45,000 meals.

Modeled on a successful program at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, the Soup Cellar was the dream of Mary Laney Tatum, who had interned at St. Luke’s, and Dr. James Barrett, senior minister from 1976 to November 1977. After two years of planning, the dream of the Washington Street Soup Cellar was finally realized.

To assist in the church’s outreach to the urban community, two new positions were created and filled: Rev. Toni White came in 1977 as minister of education and outreach, and Mary Tatum was brought on as new ministries coordinator. In addition, Rebecca Callcott, lay member and chair of the work area on Christian Social Concerns, contributed administrative assistance, acquisition of funding and volunteer coordination to this new venture.

When the Soup Cellar opened for business in October 1979, the Rev. C.J. Lupo was senior minister and provided the overall introductory leadership.

During its initial year, the Soup Cellar operated only on Mondays and Fridays, and only the staff and lay volunteers from Washington Street worked to provide the meals. Those coming for meals increased from a dozen at first to 50 or 60 over a few weeks.

Other churches began to lend financial support, and Wednesday meal service was added.

Fortunately, volunteers came from First Presbyterian, First Baptist and Trinity Episcopal Cathedral to augment the Washington Street Church workers. Over time, two more days were added to the serving schedule. Then five Lutheran churches came together to be responsible for Friday meals.

Nazareth Baptist began a Saturday meal in that congregation’s church, and Trinity Cathedral offered breakfast on Sundays.

The Soup Cellar at Washington Street ministry had expanded its influence to substantially assist those in need in downtown Columbia.

Numerous local churches currently provide both volunteers and financial support to the Soup Cellar. Those churches include Windsor UMC, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Union UMC, Forest Lake Presbyterian, Shandon Presbyterian, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Sidney Park CME, Shandon UMC, First Baptist, Trenholm Road UMC, St. Joseph Church, Whaley Street UMC, Eastminster Presbyterian Women, St. Mark UMC, Second Calvary Baptist Church, Salem UMC, Trinity Episcopal, Rehoboth UMC, St. Andrew’s Lutheran, St. David Lutheran and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

This level of participation ensures the true ecumenical spirit of this downtown ministry.

Under the direction of its current manager, Terrence Chisholm, the Soup Cellar continues to thrive at Washington Street and is a vital part of the downtown community it serves.

About Washington Street

Washington Street was established in 1803 and was the first Christian house of worship in Columbia.

In January 2016, WSUMC updated its identity statement to reflect the vision of the church and its congregation: “The congregation of WSUMC praises and serves God from the heart of the city in ways which reach our neighbors near and far. We welcome all who seek the love and mercy of Christ regardless of race, creed, age, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or economic status. We honor traditions as rooted in our history, our expression of worship and our respect for theological curiosity. We nonetheless see vital change and ongoing renewal as essential for spiritual growth.”

Washington Street UMC invites the community to its services each Sunday at 9 a.m. in the chapel, and 11 a.m. in the sanctuary. Sunday school classes for all ages are at 9:45 every Sunday.

For more information about any upcoming events, call the church office at 803-256-2417 or visit

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