Church groups and other faith-based organizations have long made a practice of operating soup kitchens where the needy and homeless can get a decent meal for free. But can atheists be charitable, too?
The operator of a soup kitchen in Spartanburg, S.C., says no. In fact, she says, she would stop distributing food to the hungry before she would allow atheists to help her out.
Members of the group Upstate Atheists have been trying to volunteer at the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen for a about a year, but Executive Director Lou Landrum won’t let them. She says that letting atheists feed people would be “a disservice to the community.”
"This is a ministry to serve God" Landrum told the Spartanburg Herald Journal newspaper. "We stand on the principles of God. Do they (atheists) think that our guests are so ignorant that they don't know what an atheist is?”
The soup kitchen relies volunteer workers. Upstate Atheists has about 200 members. The group’s president, Eve Brannon, says that the Spartanburg kitchen is the only organization not to accept their help.
"We can all work together to achieve something positive regardless of religion or lack thereof," Brannon said. "We've raised money for March of Dimes, worked with the Generous Garden Project, done community park clean ups, adopted a highway, and sponsored local foster children for Christmas."
She said that her group will hand out care packages to homeless people, with toothbrushes, socks, soap and other basic items, from a spot across from the soup kitchen. Brannon said her group chose that location simply because that is where homeless people congregate.
"They can set up across the street from the Soup Kitchen. They can have the devil there with them, but they better not come across the street," Landrum warned.
Landrum said that the Upstate Atheist group planned to wear T-shirts with their slogan, “Charity Beyond Belief” at the soup kitchen. But Brannon said that’s not true. The group was fine working without the T-shirts.
SOURCES: Spartanburg Herald Journal, Fox Carolina