The Spartanburg Soup Kitchen is struggling to spread Christmas cheer this holiday season after its delivery van was stolen Tuesday morning.
Soup kitchen executive director Lou Landrum said it wasn't until early afternoon that staff members realized the van was taken from outside the soup kitchen's facility on Forest Street.
Police are now investigating the report and searching for the Ford Windstar minivan with magnetic “Spartanburg Soup Kitchen” decals. Landrum said she has also provided authorities with the van's license plate number.
“We have a lot of pickups to make, so this morning we come in, I'm thinking one person or another was just using the van making pickups, but then it dawned on us,” Landrum said. “We're mortified here. We're heartbroken right now and can't believe it …. But we still have a commitment to give to people this Christmas.”
Landrum and her staff determined the van was stolen while they were in the process of setting up decorations for the soup kitchen's “Ugly Christmas Sweater” fundraiser to be held at 3 p.m. Sunday.
The padlock that keeps the delivery van gated and secured outside was also missing, she said.
The soup kitchen serves hot meals to hundreds daily and hosts a number of women's and men's empowerment programs and Christmas events.
The delivery van, which was donated to the soup kitchen last year, is used to deliver food to those who cannot access the soup kitchen. It is also the main vehicle for food pickups from churches, schools, businesses and families.
Without the van, the nonprofit is unable to pick up the massive amounts of goods donated each day, Landrum said.
“Here, we feed so many people. That was our mode of transportation to help us drive around to pick up food, to continue our mission of fighting poverty,” Landrum said.
Willie Smith is the soup kitchen's primary delivery driver and uses the van often. He said he was saddened to find that the van had been taken.
“I came in this morning to drive to pick up deliveries and noticed the van was gone. I went out in a truck and did pickups, but the van was still gone when I came back,” he said, pointing out the soup kitchen window toward the gated delivery bay. “That's when we found out someone had taken it.”
More than 380 people came to the soup kitchen for lunch Tuesday afternoon. Landrum said those numbers will only go up the closer it gets to Christmas. The soup kitchen collected 92,000 pounds of food from donations in November.
The soup kitchen is working with insurance adjusters to claim the theft of its van. The nonprofit will purchase a new van if the former van is not found.
“Our community has always supported us,” Landrum said.
Tanya Ballenger and Melanie Floyd said they were shocked to hear about the theft as they left a women's empowerment meeting at the soup kitchen Tuesday afternoon.
“It's awful, it feels like the Grinch is stealing Christmas,” Floyd said. “And Lou goes above and beyond to help the community. They do so much. It was so awful to have that happen.”
Monetary donations can be made to the soup kitchen through its website at www.helpthekitchen.org or by phone through a donation hotline, 864-504-9301.