Stewpot depends on workers, volunteers

Published 1:04 am Monday, September 25, 2017


NATCHEZ — Each day when the door of Natchez Stewpot swings open and the smell of fresh cornbread wafts out onto Franklin Street, a few familiar faces are always behind the bar ready to serve up the day’s meal.

The kitchen opened 33 years ago to feed Natchez’s hungry and elderly population, and 26 of those years have included Johnnie B. Davis.

Email newsletter signup

Six days each week, Davis slices through long, deep pans of cornbread and stirs together whatever is on the menu that she designs.

When she was young, she said, her godmother asked her to start delivering dishes for the kitchen, but pretty soon, she was in behind the grills and ovens doing what she loves: cooking and helping people.

She continued the tradition of family recruitment when she asked her son, Marcus, and her niece, Elrica Coleman, to join the team.

Now she, surrounded by family, serves nearly 300 meals to the 100 sick and elderly in the area as well as those who come into the kitchen for lunch.

Nearly 40 rotating volunteers work alongside Davis, preparing and delivering food to all in need.

Coleman said the hours are long and the work leaves them tired, but it’s worth it.

“It gives you a sense of peace within yourself,” she said. “You’re serving your community and doing good.”

Perhaps the oldest worker at Stewpot, however, is David Lewis, a 25-year veteran of the kitchen who turned 91 this year.

“I’ve been helping people all my life in one way or another,” Lewis said. “It feels great to help people. I’m going to work here ’til I die.”

It’s a joy, he said, to help people who are hungry.

Coleman said despite growing up in Natchez, she did not understand the food problem here when she first started working in the kitchen.

One in every eight Americans struggles with hunger, national non-profit Feeding America’s statistics suggest.

In Natchez, Coleman said seeing hungry people firsthand changed how she understood the problem.

“As the years go by,” she said, “I’ve learned that it is a desperate need.”

The Stewpot’s Director Amanda Jeansonne, too, has been a part of Stewpot for many years.

She first began delivering just a few years after the soup kitchen was founded in 1984.

“I just decided that I would give it a shot,” Jeansonne said. “It’s something that I’ve really enjoyed doing.”

Jeansonne said the shelter benefits from long-time workers such as Davis.

“It’s wonderful for me just to have these sources of knowledge there,” Jeansonne said. “I joke around and say Johnnie B. is my boss. She just knows so much, and she’s an invaluable part of the Stewpot.”

Some delivery drivers, too, have completed their routes for 20 or more years, she said.

Sometimes the elderly and shut-ins who receive deliveries need a lightbulb changed or need their mail collected.

Sometimes, she said, the delivery drivers are the only ones elderly can count on to visit every day.

“You get to know your people,” Jeansonne said. “There’s a very special relationship with delivery people and people who receive the meals.”

For Marcus Davis, working at Stewpot is an opportunity to spend time with his family between his jobs while doing something good for his hometown.

He often works until 2 a.m. each evening in his security job and gets up again the next morning to come to the kitchen.

But Davis said he doesn’t plan on quitting any time soon.

“I’d rather see people eat than see them hungry,” Davis said. “I’m thankful and blessed to be able to help others.”