Norwood soup kitchen rises back from the ashes

St. Stephen’s Meals, a Norwood soup kitchen, will reopen soon. It closed temporarily in January when a fire gutted the Lutheran Church of the Epiphany’s basement. Photo by Victor Chu

A northwest Bronx soup kitchen will reopen soon. St. Stephen’s Meals closed temporarily on Saturday, January 3 when a fire damaged the basement at Norwood’s Lutheran Church of the Epiphany. The blaze destroyed tables and chairs, utensils and paper plates, wires and food. St. Stephen’s Meals is the only soup kitchen in Norwood; for six months, hungry residents have trekked to POTS, a soup kitchen on Webster Avenue and E. 198th Street.

The church is more than ten blocks away, at Bainbridge Avenue and E. 206th Street.

Although it boasts 75 members, fewer than 30 worship on any given Sunday.

The church recently completed a basement renovation with help from two Lutheran high schools on Long Island. Long Island Lutheran donated $7,000; Trinity Lutheran donated $1,000.

“The fire was unfortunate and yet God’s grace has allowed us to continue our ministry in a new and exciting way,” vicar Bob Rainis said.

“There was hardship but the neighborhood rallied behind the church and we are looking bigger and better.”

The basement has a new ceiling and a new floor, a new lighting system, new windows and new wires.

The church put the renovation out to bid but found a Norwood painter to paint. He hired the soup kitchen’s cook, out of work since January.

“The space is cleaner and brighter than before,” Rainis said.

The soup kitchen also has a new industrial-sized freezer – cost-effective and eco-friendly. St. Stephen’s Meals recently donated its old refrigerators to Norwood residents in need. Rather than replace the basement’s tin ceilings, the church opted for fire-resistant sheet rock. There may be enough insurance money left over to install an A/C unit.

Norwood residents have missed St. Stephen’s Meals, Rainis said. When hungry people show up at the church, Rainis points to POTS. Initially, deacon Anthony Bopp suggested that another church house the soup kitchen in the interim but United Way funds St. Stephen’s Meals and requires extensive certification.

The basement was home to three Alcoholics Anonymous groups. Two have moved away; one convenes in the sanctuary.

The basement was also home to a mentoring program that pairs Norwood children and Fordham University students. Rather than meet at the church during the spring, the children and students went on excursions.

An exercise group for women that met in the basement is now at the Holy Nativity Episcopal Church on Bainbridge Avenue.

When the Department of Building has inspected the basement, the church and St. Stephen’s Meals will host a neighborhood dedication ceremony. The soup kitchen will be open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 12:00 to 12:30 p.m.

“We’ll be happy to have St. Stephen’s Meals again,” Bopp said. “The basement is beautiful. We’re stocked and ready to go.”

On January 3, some 60 firefighters fought to contain the conflagration and preserve the 80-year old sanctuary; three sustained minor injuries. The church’s thrift shop stayed open.

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