Soup kitchen nourishes volunteer’s soul

EVERETT — Marty Owens was in the hospital. He had been in a car accident and was recovering from injuries. His mother, Carole Burkey, visited him.

“He said, ‘Mom, I am so tired of this life. I want to just quit and serve Him,’ ” Burkey said.

Three days later Burkey was at church. It was the evening of Dec. 22, 2004, when she was told that her son had overdosed. The Everett mother went to her son’s home. Marty Owens was dead at age 48.

Looking back, Burkey can see where her son got into drugs. She still sees it in some of the faces of the people she serves at noon every Tuesday at the Salt of the Earth Soup Kitchen at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Everett.

“That’s why I always hug them,” Burkey said.

April will mark Burkey’s 10-year anniversary of volunteering for the nonprofit effort that feeds up to 80 homeless and low-income people each week.

The organization started out in 1993 when president and founder Sandra Richards was reaching out to kids on the street by making sack lunches.

Richards had teamed up with an 82-year-old woman who was housing homeless youth and asked Richards to make lunches.

“It soon grew to 35 kids and it was getting spendy,” Richards said.

Richards began going to stores asking if they would be willing to help with bread or other donations.

“It grew to one food bank, then another, then another,” Richards said.

Salt of the Earth now has eight food banks throughout Snohomish County, as well as the soup kitchen in Everett.

Although Salt of the Earth is not affiliated with any church, Westminster Presbyterian donates space to the organization once a week. The soup kitchen had previously been held outside and elsewhere in Everett.

“I’ve seen lots of changes,” Richards said. “I’m seeing more and more families and children.”

Richards and Burkey are finding more middle-class people coming to the soup kitchen, suffering because of the economic climate.

“We are praying the food will continue,” Richards said.

Burkey looks fondly at photographs of her son on the motorcycle he loved. Ever since he was a boy, motorcycles held a great fascination for him. She likes to tell the story of the family’s first trip to the beach when he was a boy.

“There were a bunch of bikers there,” Carole Burkey said. “He found them.”

When he was about 11, Owens took his first foray into the drug scene and started taking speed. He got mixed up with the wrong crowd and later got into more drugs.

As he grew into adulthood, Owens rode a motorcycle. It was a three-wheeler that helped accommodate the fact that he had only one leg. He was born that way.

Owens broke his addictions in 1988. For eight years, he led a sober life.

But when his wife was killed in a 1996 collision, he couldn’t cope with the pain of the loss and strayed back to heroin.

At her son’s funeral, Burkey hung up a sign she had cut from butcher paper. It read: Free At Last.

When she returned to the soup kitchen, she saw people who knew her son come in to be fed.

“My heart would just open,” Burkey said.

Some weeks she couldn’t wait to get to the church to volunteer.

“My heart just expands with love,” Burkey said. “I call it a spiritual connection.”

Burkey, after 10 years, is willing to keep volunteering to serve the hungry and look for some of the people who might be her son’s friends.

“I’ll be here for as long as I can do it,” Burkey said.

Christina Harper: 425-339-3491, harper@heraldnet.com.

Feeding souls

Salt of the Earth Soup Kitchen is open noon on Tuesdays at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 2531 Hoyt Ave., Everett.

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