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Toe Valley Soup Ministry Celebrates Successful Year with Bluegrass Concert Saturday, April 29th at Pine Grove United Methodist Church in Avery County

David Wiseman. Kathy Shealy Stout and Alan Johnson

There are various outreach ministries in the North Carolina High Country founded to assist those in need in various manners. One that serves Avery and Mitchell County has completed its fourteenth year of existence in 2023 is the Toe Valley Soup Ministry.

And to celebrate another year of success, this ministry will hold a bluegrass concert for all who want to attend this Saturday, April 29th at Pine Grove Methodist Church, located at 53 Pine Grove Church Road, in the Ingalls Community of Avery County.  The church is near the intersection of Mullen Hill Road and U.S. Highway 19-E.

Keith Cole

The “Bluegrass the Wiseman Way” concert will run from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. and will feature old-fashioned, foot-stomping music by members of the Wiseman Family and Friends.  Several of the Wiseman Family through several generations such as Kent Wiseman, Billy Constable, Charlie Moore and Jody Lovelace are prominent musicians and singers who have attended the church or had heirs who did.  The Wiseman Family has had a large musical influence on many of their bluegrass peers as well as aspiring musicians and singers, and have been important contributors to the High Country for many years.

Wiseman Family and Friends scheduled to perform at the concert include:  David Wiseman, Gabriel Wiseman, Shannon Leisure, Bret Setzer, Mike Ramsey, Keith Cole, Alan Johnson and Kathy Shealy Stout.

The concert is dedicated to the memory of another Wiseman Family musician and singer, Eddie Lovelace, who was scheduled to perform at the event.  But he passed away recently.

Following the concert, all who attend will be offered a bowl of soup beans, cornbread and a drink.

There is no admission charge to the concert, or the meal afterwards, although donations to the Toe Valley Soup Ministry are welcomed and deeply appreciated.

The weekly soup ministry began in 2009 at Mount Zion United Methodist Church, which is located in the Kalmia Community on the far Southern section of Avery County, near the Mitchell County line. It was joined by Pine Grove and Vance Memorial United Methodist Churches, in nearby Ingalls, and Plumtree, respectfully, a short time later.  This outreach ministry was then named “Soup’s On.”   

The idea for this soup kitchen originated from sisters Nina White McKinney and Marie White Bost.  McKinney is a Mount Zion Church member and the late Bost was a Pine Grove Church member.  Both grew up attending Pine Grove Church and knew there were many people in the region who struggled financially or were shut-in, sick or elderly and could use a soup meal each week.  

The Jacktown Ramblers:  (Left-to-right):  Shannon Leisure, Gabriel Wiseman, Bret Setzer and Mike Ramsey.

The soup kitchen started with a few slow cookers of soup and people coming to Mount Zion Church to eat. As the numbers expanded, the soup kitchen was moved to Pine Grove Church, which had a larger kitchen to prepare the soup and related items and a bigger dining area for people to eat.  Anyone who desired could come in and eat or pick up a meal and take it to his or her home.

Soon after, those working the soup kitchen realized there were many people who were not physically able to come to the church to eat or pick up a meal to take home, and some who would like to have a meal were not licensed to drive.  So the workers and other volunteers began delivering the meals.

Because of its expansion into a large community and area endeavor, its named changed to the Toe Valley Soup Ministry.

Usually about 25 members– both women and men—from Mount Zion and Pine Grove Churches, along with Reverend Brent Nidiffer, who pastors both, work every Tuesday and Wednesday from the first week in January through the last week in March in Pine Grove Church’s kitchen facilities preparing a beef, chicken, vegetable or other soup, along with bread, desert and sometimes another side item.  The workers then package those foods into boxes, which are delivered on Wednesday afternoons to what has grown to currently around 140 people within a ten mile radius of the churches each direction.

Approximately 35 pounds of chicken and beef and 25 pounds of roast beef are used when each is the featured soup entrée.  Several bushels of potatoes, several pounds of other vegetables and several dozen saltine crackers are used each week in the meals’ preparation.  The workers often peel the potatoes by hand.  The ladies who work the soup kitchen also make several dozen of a home-made dessert each week that is included with the meal.  Condiments are boxed with each meal, too.

In past years, a two-acre community garden located on Weatherman Road near Pine Grove Church was created and various vegetables were grown there that were used in the soup kitchen.  Various individuals and businesses have also donated food items, paper soup bowls and their lids, boxes, plastic containers and other related products for the soup kitchen, as well as financial donations to help supply the items and keep the Toe Valley Soup Ministry in existence.

David Wiseman

Whites Memorial, Green Valley and Mount Calvary Baptist Churches, the first located in Ingalls, and the last two in Kalmia, in particular, have also provided assistance in various ways with this ministry.

While numbers of recipients of the soup and related items were slightly down this year, it was again termed a great success and a most rewarding year for those who worked in it to help so many others, according to Toe River Soup Ministry Coordinator and Certified United Methodist Church Lay Speaker Linda Ollis Taylor.  She stated: “Our number of recipients were slightly down this year compared to some years past due to a few of those who have been regular yearly clients passing away or moving to health care or assisted living facilities.  But we still got meals to several dozen people, which we were most happy and honored to do.  There’s no greater blessing you can get than by helping others—especially those who are experiencing a hard time or hard times in various ways.  So, myself and all our kitchen workers and delivery people–some of which do both—receive a blessing from God by participating in such a ministry.  We’re most happy God is using us as He has been through the Toe Valley Soup Ministry and look forward to carrying on this worthy and needed cause for many more years.”

For further information about the concert and the Toe Valley Soup Ministry, call Linda Ollis Taylor at (828) 387-6708.

Gabriel Wiseman