More Than Just Soup

by Dave on April 29, 2010

Ken & Dale Dunning

by Michael Short

Rev. Dale Dunning makes hearty, steaming soup for hundreds of hungry people every week.

But her ministry feeds far more than just the body.

Called Jusst Sooup, her ministry offers a shoulder to lean on when people need it the most. She collects toiletries to distribute, finds a place for people to stay and helps them fill prescriptions.

She helped one man write his name and puts others on buses to take them to relatives. She offers up her mobile home (named Beulah) as a place for people to freshen up and she puts socks on the feet of those who are cold.

When she left a pot of soup for one family, they asked if they could keep the soup pot. “Please don’t take this pot,” they said. “We eat and bathe out of it.”

The Lewes minister estimates that the ministry has dealt with some 6,800 homeless people in the last five years.

Dunning has won a Jefferson Award for her service and she’s been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show. But she and her family do this because they are called to it.

“I wouldn’t have chosen me, but he (God) chose me,” she said. “I think God is really trying to teach me some things.”
Using a mixture of donations and whatever money she can scrape together, she continues her ministry. Recently, local musicians created a CD called “Just Soup” and all the proceeds benefit the ministry.

Husband Ken works three jobs and their four sons have all helped with the ministry in their own way. Son Brooks, 27, washes dishes and sets tables part-time. “I like volunteering. I like helping out,” he said.

“She really loves helping people,” Ken said. “If I had to work a fourth job to help, I would do that because I’ve seen what the Lord has done for us.”

“It makes you feel good. Your efforts paid off,” said Ken. “You made a difference in somebody’s life.”

The couple lost their own home to foreclosure after many years. After putting children through college, the bills mounted and they could not keep their own home.

While painful, they say the experience helped them to understand others who are down on their luck. “It’s a blessing in disguise,” he said.

They have a new home now in Lewes, but the memories of how others treated them when they were down and out remain vivid. “We know how it is to be homeless,” he said.

“It was just rough times,” she said. “But when we look back, it teaches you to listen to others.”

“There is a better day. There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “Ken and I remember what it was like being (living) in that van. It was hot and the mosquitoes were eating us up,” she said.

“We remember how people mocked us…I want to be there for somebody else like I wanted them to be for Ken and I. . . That person out there (who is down and out), it’s like us all over again,” she said.

She began with a hot plate and a crock pot. Now, she makes some 950 quarts of soup every week to be distributed, usually at local churches. She can be found at the Home of the Brave (for veterans), Rehoboth Presbyterian Church and other locations in Sussex County helping “my little soupers.”

Recently, she has spoken to people about beginning new programs in Milford and Newport.

The ministry is based upon the gospel of John which says, “if you love me, then feed my sheep.”

“We have seen so many things that touch you. It touches your heart and makes you want to do more,” she said.

“I understand love. When you love someone, you care for them. You listen to them. You serve them,” she said. “This whole thing is about loving God’s people and caring for them. There are a lot of hurting people out there.”

The tables are always set nicely and the people who come for soup are treated as special guests. She says some shelters or soup kitchens only serve at certain times or make people listen through a prayer service first.

Dunning loves to pray with those she serves, but she doesn’t put any conditions on a hot bowl of soup or a shoulder to lean on. If that means people come early or leave late, so be it.

“People don’t need to be preached to,” she said. “They don’t see any love out of us. They don’t see any joy out of us. They don’t see any peace out of us. . . What’s the use of having a soup kitchen if you’re not there for the people?”

“We all have baggage . . . If we can help you unload it, we want to,” she said. “I’m here to feed you, not to judge you. I believe in giving a person a chance.”

“Give them some grace and mercy and some encouragement,” she said. “And above all, give them some good soup.”

The people who come in the door run the gamut from the poor to the once prosperous who are down on their luck. “We see people who never thought they would be in a soup kitchen. People that are teachers or carpenters . . . Something happened that just devastated them, but something can happen to every one of us. . . We get people straightened out and help them. Then, look at what they can do in their communities (when they are back on their feet).”

She asks only that people show kindness to others. “Will you make me a promise? (When) you see someone, don’t look down on them . . . Don’t forget how God has blessed you.”

The Just Soup CD was written and produced by a who’s who of local musical talent. John W. Thompson and Ed Shockley wrote the song while Keith Mack, Doug James and other musicians perform on it.

“I was praying to God, earnestly seeking him for guidance,” it begins. “What I could do about the suffering was my simple prayer. I thought I heard him say ‘Dear Pilgrim, if you want to make a difference, just bring what you got. Some water in a pot on a hot stove top and I will meet you there.'”

“These are my children,” it continues. “Tell them the door is always open.”

The $5 CD helps to pay the bills, but she would like to do much more. A building so she doesn’t have to use her own small kitchen and can help more people tops the wish list. But she’s more than happy with the way things are.

“I’m the most blessed person in the world,” she said. “I serve the people.”

Rev. Dunning can be reached at 644-8113 or at The CD is available through her or at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach.

Click here to see photos and to read this and the rest of this week’s Coastal Sussex Weekly magazine.

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