Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Beyond filling bellies at a Faribault “soup kitchen” June 28, 2016

A sign in front of the church advertises the free meals served here twice a week.

A sign in front of the church advertises the free meals served here twice a week.

FOR DONNA STROHKIRCH, finding funding for Full Belly based out of Faribault’s Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour is an ongoing effort. Feeding the 60 -70 people who come for the non-profit’s free meals on a Wednesday evening costs about $100.

The Guild House dining room and kitchen. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The Guild House dining room and kitchen. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from an unrelated event.

It is, says Donna—meal planner, shopper, cook, greeter and so much more—a miracle that the kitchen continues to operate. She’s already had to trim back from serving three meals weekly to just once a week. And even though she’s dipped into her Social Security income to provide for those in need, this seventy-something woman remains prayerfully optimistic. God always provides, she says. With a smile.

The beautifully-designed tickets, complete with directions to the gardens on the back.

The beautifully-designed tickets, complete with directions to the gardens on the back.

Sunday afternoon, Full Belly benefited from a Cathedral-organized Garden and Landscape Tour. I talked with Donna about her meal ministry after touring six Faribault area gardens on a brilliantly sunny and beautiful summer afternoon in southern Minnesota.

The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour is the first Episcopal church in the U.S. to be built as a cathedral. Construction began in 1862 and was completed in 1869.

The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour is the first Episcopal church in the U.S. to be built as a cathedral. Construction began in 1862 and was completed in 1869. It attracts lots of visitors interested in this historic building.

Inside the air conditioned space connecting the Cathedral and Guild House, Donna answered my questions between welcoming guests to a dessert table. “It’s always been my mission to have a soup kitchen,” she says, referencing the extensive poverty she witnessed in Alaska before moving to Minnesota three years ago. Shortly thereafter, with the support of family, she started Fully Belly. It’s truly a family affair with a daughter-in-law, grandkids and several unpaid volunteers assisting Donna.

Beautiful gardens, complete with benches, grace the area that connects the cathedral to the Guild House.

Beautiful gardens, complete with benches, grace the area that connects the Cathedral to the historic Guild House, left.

They serve full, well-balanced meals, not just soup, to anyone in need. Most diners are elderly, living on fixed incomes. “Food is me,” says Donna, who comes with a broad background in the food profession. “Love and food kind of go together.”

Lovely lilies in a side garden remind me of

Lovely lilies in a Cathedral side garden remind me of Matthew 6:28, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin.”

It’s clear from our brief conversation that Donna’s purpose extends beyond filling empty bellies. “It’s my mission from God to help people. I’ve always taken care of people,” she says. Full Belly also provides much-needed fellowship. It is that social aspect, that showing love to others, that food for the soul, which fuels Donna’s passion for feeding others a free meal once a week. She mingles with her dinner guests, talks to them, makes them feel welcome.

Flowers grow alongside the Cathedral and Guild House and in expansive beds.

Flowers grow alongside the Cathedral and Guild House and in expansive beds.

Donna is clearly passionate about feeding the hungry in the Faribault community. And then she mentioned one more thing: She’s always wanted to go on a mission trip. But she lacks money for such a trip and she’s dealing with health issues. Yet, she seems determined. I expect, as she has with Full Belly, that Donna will find a way to finance a mission trip, fulfilling what she views as her life’s mission—to help people.

FYI: Click here to learn more about Full Belly, including information on how you can support this meal ministry. Full Belly serves a free meal from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Wednesday evenings at the Cathedral Guild House, behind the church (515 Second Avenue Northwest) near downtown Faribault.

The Community Cathedral Cafe also serves free meals at the Cathedral Guild House from 5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays.

Check back as I take you to the gardens featured on the Fully Belly fundraiser garden tour.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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8 Responses to “Beyond filling bellies at a Faribault “soup kitchen””

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    “Food is me”–what a great lady and mission. Full Belly is definitely filling bellies but I suspect it is filling hearts as well. Loved reading about Donna and this wonderful service in your area.

  2. What a great story of an inspiring lady. I love how it’s mostly elderly that attend. I think that generation gets shut in and left out too much. Does your community have a meals on wheels program?

  3. hotlyspiced Says:

    What beautiful images of your town in summer. It looks very pretty and that’s a gorgeous church. I didn’t realise Alaska had so much poverty! I’m really impressed this lady is able to feed so many for so little! What a great mission and what a wonderful work she is doing xx

    • Donna didn’t mention what part of Alaska she was referencing when she spoke of the poverty there. But I know there are some areas of extreme poverty.

      I, too, think Donna manages well to feed that many people for $100. She shops the sales and plans her menu accordingly.

      Yes, Minnesota is beautiful in the summer with lots of greenery. And, yes, the Cathedral is gorgeous.

  4. Sue Ready Says:

    What a noteworthy program! And the idea that they are also providing fellowship which is an important and much needed piece. We certainly need more of these programs and helpers to implement.


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