By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — It was finally her day to help.
Twelve-year-old Dharma Paradis had waited a long time to be old enough to volunteer at the Sonshine Soup Kitchen.
Now, Dharma joins a long list of volunteers from community organizations, church groups and individuals who come to the soup kitchen at First Baptist Church to lend a hand. She is part of the St. Jude's church community in Londonderry.
"I thought it would be a good experience," Dharma said.
Sonshine has ministered to the community for 23 years, offering daily free meals in a friendly environment.
In addition to food, Sonshine also offers Bible study, personal care items and clothing.
Although First Baptist has been a successful site for the soup kitchen, supporters say it's now time to grow and find a new space.
Sonshine is embarking on a "Build to Feed" campaign to raise money to support a new location.
The drive is a 50-50-50 campaign. The group hopes to find 50 groups or individuals to raise or donate $1,000 each in 50 days to match another local grant by April 1.
With an average of 60 meals served five nights a week, space is getting tight. More and more people are coming through Sonshine's doors for meals and fellowship.
"We are trying to stay up with the demands," soup kitchen director Christine Fudala said.
There are many limitations at the current location, Fudala said, including only one restroom, no handicapped accessibility, not enough parking, limited refrigerator space, and no space to store food or clothing for the kitchen's other donation missions.
An ideal plan would be to find a new space within a half-mile of the current location, she said.
Diane Swinarski leads St. Jude's youth ministry and said coming to the soup kitchen is something she has enjoyed for about eight years.
"It's my favorite place to come," she said. "It's a happy place."
Swinarski said bringing young volunteers like Dharma along is a teaching tool.
"It helps them learn to be compassionate and to widen their horizons," she said.
St. Luke's United Methodist Church joins St. Jude as one of Sonshine's original supporters. The Derry church is committed to raising its $1,000 contribution to help Sonshine.
"It's so near and dear to our hearts," longtime St. Luke's volunteer Kim Champoux said.
Jean Roalsvig has been helping for many years. She now shares time at Sonshine with her 16-year-old daughter.
"We go twice a month," she said. "There are people that have been there since the beginning."
Roalsvig said the experience is more than preparing meals and sharing time in the kitchen. It's the fellowship, meeting the guests and having a chance to talk to them.
"We know the regulars and they know my name," she said.
Volunteer Joanne Packard said it's time for Sonshine to grow.
"The mission is growing and we have run out of room," she said. "There's just no room at the inn."
A campaign kickoff for the "Build to Feed" campaign is set for Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at the soup kitchen, 44 East Broadway.
All are invited to attend to hear about how to help support the mission and plans to find a new space. RSVP to SSKbuildtofeed@myfairpoint.net.