Jusst Sooup Ministry serves up hope for needy

Rev. Dale Dunning, founder of Jusst Sooup Ministry, leads volunteers in a line dance during the July 25 soup kitchen at the ministry in Cool Spring. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

MILTON — It all began about two decades ago at a church in Lewes with Dale Dunning’s heartfelt mission to feed a need.

Today, that mission continues through Jusst Sooup Ministry which is the soup kitchen cog at the Jusst Sooup Ranch in Cool Spring on U.S. 9.

“It is an honor for me to serve,” said the Rev. Dale Dunning, an ordained minister since 2006. “God is teaching me to serve. He is still teaching me. I want to learn, but I am so grateful for the call and grateful for the people that I have the opportunity to serve.”

This Sept. 22 will mark the 20th anniversary of the soup kitchen crusade facilitated by Rev. Dunning, 66, and her husband of 48 years, Ken Dunning, now 67. The first soup kitchen was at the Presbyterian Church in Lewes, where the Dunnings lived at that time.

A tiny chapel, built almost entirely by Rev. Dale Dunning and husband Ken Dunning, is part of the Jusst Sooup Ministry. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

A pre-anniversary celebration is in the works in late August.

“Over 20 years she has started 18 different soup kitchens. From Bethany Beach all the way to Newport,” said Mr. Dunning.

The Jusst Sooup Ministry has functioned as a church since 2014, some three years after their need for a home soup kitchen was realized through television’s Extreme Home Makeover.

Numerous volunteers pitched for the makeover and August 2011 build, which included the soup kitchen, along with a home for the Dunning family.

Volunteers are an integral component of the Jusst Sooup Ministry’s soup kitchen. From left: Kim Davis, Dick Lane, co-founders Ken Dunning and Rev. Dale Dunning, Bart Tomascak, Lois Carter, Marge Chandler and Mike Davis. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

Plans for the soup kitchen were put on hold.

“Because the neighbors complained, we couldn’t use it for three years,” said Mr. Dunning. “So, a lawyer told us if we turned it into a church, we could do whatever we want, because all the soup kitchens Dale started were in a church hall. We had to get approval from IRS. We already had our 501c3, but to be a church had to get a different authorization. We have been certified as a church for the last five years.”

“A year before “Extreme Makeover” came, Schell Brothers donated this land to us,” Mr. Dunning said. “They said once a year they help somebody in the community. They gave us the land and they said when the economy gets better, they’d help us build something on it.”

In the meantime, they sent the Dunning’s name into “Extreme Makeover.” “And they chose us out of 5,000 people they were interviewing around the country,” Mr. Dunning said.

Amid complaints from nearby residents, the matter made its way to Sussex County’s board of adjustment, which unanimously denied a special-use permit request to operate a soup kitchen on the 6-acre property; a soup kitchen is not a permitted use in land zoned agricultural/residential.

So, the next step was to go through the process of becoming a church, which is a permitted use in AR-1 zoning.

In addition to soup kitchen day on Thursday, Jusst Sooup Ministry includes Saturday fellowship, and prayer in chapel on Wednesday.

That’s right, there’s a little chapel, built with a tag-team effort by Mr. and Rev. Dunning. It’s located in front of the soup kitchen complex.

“When the ‘Extreme Makeover’ sent us away, we went to Niagara Falls (Canada). And they had the world’s smallest Guinness Book of Records chapel. It only housed six people,” said Mr. Dunning. “My wife said, ‘I want one like that, but we are going to make it bigger.’ Ours holds like 16. We had somebody get married there around last Thanksgiving.”

“I said to Ken, “When you graduated from high school you were a carpenter’s helper. I said, ‘Come on, I’m going to be your carpenter’s helper. Let’s do it.’ And the place is still standing,” said Rev. Dunning. “I was hammering. Sometimes, a nail would fly back and strike me in the face! But we did it.”

“I cut the boards and she nailed them,” Mr. Dunning said. “We did everything but the roof. It was hot as I don’t know what when we built it.”

Thursday soup kitchen day at the Jusst Sooup Ranch runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., give or take a few minutes. It is dine-in and/or take-out.

Typically, soup kitchen Thursdays draw about 75 to 80 guests. Counting take-outs, about 300 bowls of soup are served.

Weekly staples on the soup kitchen menu are three soups and an assortment of sandwiches complimenting by a beverage bar and desserts. Hearty chicken noodle and vegetable are soupy staples. Sandwich selections include ham cheese, turkey and cheese, bologna and cheese and the international favorite — peanut butter and jelly.

“We get newcomers every week,” said Mr. Dunning.

“There’s always somebody new,” Rev. Dunning said.

“We have different people that sleep in their cars, so they drive here. Some are caching DART bus, some ride bicycles,” said Mr. Dunning. “If somebody gets here and they don’t have a way to get back where they want to go, we’ll give them a ride back.”

On other days, the Dunnings and volunteers take their soup kitchen show on the road.

“The other days we transport it and we go to different places. We even go to the Home of the Brave in Milford to feed the veterans there on Fridays,” said Mr. Dunning.

Augmenting a hearty meal are compassionate hearts and open ears.

“Those that have problem with drugs and alcohol, we try to get people into Teen Challenge. When they come to me with their problem, I’ll say, ‘Are you willing to go to Teen Challenge?’ We try to meet the people’s needs,” Rev. Dunning said. “When you sit down and talk to them and listen to them and when they feel comfortable with you and trust you, they’ll share with you.”

“There are those that are hardworking, and it seems like they get heartbreaks and tough breaks and they are limited to what they make. But they are working, and they are trying. And I am, going to try and help them,” said Rev. Dunning. “Even those that seem like they don’t want to change I am still going to help them and know that you can change and I’m with you. We have those that are on the wagon, off the wagon. When you are on, I am with you, when you are off, I am with you. Sometimes it takes a long time. But you do see light at the end of the tunnel. I am not here to judge all of that, but I am here to serve.”

“It is absolutely rewarding. I am so worn out by the time I leave here, and I go home I can sleep in peace,” said Rev. Dunning. “It makes you feel good to know that you have helped someone, that you listened to someone.”

Lois Carter of Rehoboth Beach has been volunteering with Rev. Dunning for about 15 years.

“We were friends. We met a church,” said Ms. Carter. “The Lord told her – soup – one day. At church one day she said, ‘I think we should have a soup kitchen.’ So, the Lord was moving on her. And at this point this girl had nothing. So, she started a little hotplate and a little pot, she started taking soup to college where she was going to get her degree as a pastor. Then she started opening soup kitchens. When started one in Georgetown and Rehoboth I went and started helping her. And I have been helping her all of these years.”

“These two people are the real deal,” said Ms. Carter, referring to Rev. and Mr. Dunning. “Even when they had nothing, they were always giving somebody something. They are two remarkable people. And this place truly is a miracle,” Ms. Carter said. “When you step on this land, you knew that it was like holy ground. It truly is a peaceful place to sit. They are just two very special people. God has blessed them abundantly and I pray that he continues to do it because they feed people outside the kitchen.”

Rev. Dunning says there is a misconception in general about soup kitchens and those that are homeless.

“Sometimes people, when they think of a soup kitchen, it’s, ‘Oh, those people they are troublemakers, and they are going break into my house. They are going to steal or rob,’” Rev. Dunning said. “No. They are people just everyone else. Sometimes it is people that have just had some hard times and they make bad choices. We all have in some aspect of our lives. Everyone deserves a second chance. I feel like I have had many chances myself in life, so I want to extend same love, that same hope, that same peace, that same joy to another individual.”

Jusst Sooup Ministry offers a possible connection to work opportunities for the unemployed.

“People I know and trust, they’ll come and stop by and say, ‘We have a cleaning business. Do you know of someone that could be trustworthy that we could take on the job?’ If I know they are trustworthy I’ll tell them yes,” Rev. Dunning said. “Of course, my husband mows lawns. He has some of the people here that mow lawns and he pays them.”

One of the amenities at the Jusst Sooup Ranch is a large washer and dryer.

“We have people that are homeless. They want to get a nice job and they want to be clean. I want them to look nice. I want them to look clean,” Rev. Dunning said. “And I’ve been washing their clothes for 20 years! I don’t turn it into a laundromat. I don’t let people take advantage of it. But there are those that need the help. They are working. They are living out of their cars. They need clean clothes. We try to help people with what they need. Everyone has a different need. Some of them may need their clothes washed.”

Jusst Sooup Ministry receives support from the community, including Crossroads Community Church west of Georgetown. That’s the church the Dunnings attend.

“During the holidays it’s a lot of donations. During the rest of the year we mainly buy with our own funds and we have a couple churches that support us,” said Mr. Dunning, who is 67.

“Crossroads church, they support us. And we have our regular supporters,” said Rev. Dunning. “I am to the place now where I am at that age that I get a Social Security check. So, lots of that goes right back into purchasing things.”

Rev. Dunning has one project in the works and another as a dream.

The 8 foot by 85 foot outdoor porch built with the soup kitchen during the makeover is being enclosed with a mission.

“This is going to be my ministry room,” Rev. Dunning said. “Someone may need privacy … where they can talk to me, listen, pray with them. We want this room to be something special, where people can come – a beautiful outlet for them to sit and be still, where someone, myself or someone can listen to them. We try to treat people like the great people that they are.”

“We are trying to raise money to finish it,” Mr. Dunning said. “We have got the outside completely done and we raised enough to do that. It’s got 19 windows. We advertise anyone who donates $1,000 will get their name underneath a window. So far, we have sold 10 windows.”

With a chapel and interest in weddings, Rev. Dunning dreams of having a bridal suite on the property.

“Like a houseboat and fix it up like a bridal suite and have it back there in my woods. They could get married here, small reception … and a bridal suite,” Rev. Dunning said.

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