South Mississippi Strong: Giving a hand up, not a hand out

Barbara Ruddiman devotes her life to helping others at The Lord is My Help. (Source: WLOX)
Barbara Ruddiman devotes her life to helping others at The Lord is My Help. (Source: WLOX)
Volunteers at the Lord is My Help prepare food to hand out to those in need. (Source: WLOX)
Volunteers at the Lord is My Help prepare food to hand out to those in need. (Source: WLOX)
(Photo Source: WLOX)
(Photo Source: WLOX)

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - The Lord Is My Help soup kitchen has been a staple of the Ocean Springs community for decades, helping those who need it most. For the past 14 years, the person in charge of the operation has been Barbara Ruddiman. For her, it's a labor of love she believes is her special calling in life.

With a background in hotel management, Ruddiman found herself here.

"Every day that I get up and come in, I enjoy my work. That makes a very large difference in the happiness of your life," Ruddiman explained.

She is surrounded by those who give up their time to help. "Well, we'd be dead in the water without our volunteers. Myself and Jill, who runs the kitchen are the only paid employees. After that, everybody is a volunteer."

Those volunteers return the praise. One of them is Harvey Caylor. "She doesn't play any favorites. She treats everybody equal. She gives everything she can and does everything she can for people," Caylor said.

There are religious aspects in this operation, for good reason, according to Ruddiman.

"We have 12 members on the board. They are all Ocean Springs residents," she explains. "Each one represents a different specialty or represents different churches in the area."

Despite their troubles, everyone who walks in the door is shown dignity and compassion. "You should always treat people the way you want to be treated," said Ruddiman. "That goes anywhere in any walk of life. You can't expect to help yourself if you're not willing to help other people."

And that help leads to a brighter future for many clients, a bright spot for Ruddiman. "All of my success stories that I like to tell people about are people who have all gotten help and moved on. That's our main goal is to make sure that we help people with a hand up, not a hand out."

Speaking of giving a helping hand, that's where all the food comes from. "We get may donations. Monetary donations is what we use to purchase our food. Food donations obviously we are serving."

There's also daily paperwork that needs to be done because of some of that food, explained Ruddiman. "I also pick up once a month at 12 Baskets, which is USDA food. So that's food that I get free once a month from the federal government and I pick that up in Gulfport."

Who uses that food? "A lot of them are working. They just don't have money to necessarily be purchasing food. We do deal with the homeless but that is a very small part of our ministry."

As much as Barbara Ruddiman loves being here at the Lord is My Help, as much as the volunteer's love working for her, perhaps the people who love it most are the people who receive the help.

That includes Elizabeth Black, getting a few bags of groceries to make ends meet. "Well, it really helps out a lot. I have a 14-year-old son and he's a teenager and we go through a lot of groceries. And I'm on a fixed income with social security. And I'm unemployed and it really does help a lot,' Black said.

For Barbara, her mission is summed up in five simple words. "I just like helping people."

Between daily deliveries to shut-in's and in-house feedings, the Lord Is My Help serves more than 50,000 hot nutritious meals every year.

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