ASP-ers divided their time in Gyumri between assisting with renovations at the Ounjian school and FAR's soup kitchen. Everyday four members joined the staff at the soup kitchen, where they helped prepare a meal for 100-140 senior citizens.
The kitchen employs four people who prepare meals and clean the facility. The soup kitchen is run by FAR; it was established by benefactors Margarite and Nishan Atinizian of New Jersey.
The average beneficiary is over 65, and lives alone in Gyumri. Many of their children have gone abroad. Some are orphans who were sent to Gyumri as teenagers to work in Soviet textile factories. Some lost their spouses during the war in Karabakh. Others are refugees from Azerbaijan or victims of the 1988 earthquake.
Their only income is their monthly pension, which ranges from 15,000 to 37,000 drams per month. In the summer months, 20,000 drams covers roughly 15 days of gas and electricity. It is not enough for food, running water, or medical care.
I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking to Gor Simonyan, who supervises operations at the soup kitchen. I asked him to list things that they need to improve their services. He said the facility needs a refrigerator and freezer, an oven, tables and chairs, cutlery, and silverware. Gor hopes that one day Gyumri will have its own senior center to provide a range of services for the elderly.
The work done at FAR's soup kitchen is truly God-sent. At lunchtime, ASP-ers passed out bowls of borsht and gretchka. We placed cups of colorful limonat on each table.
However, the most important part of our time at the soup kitchen was mingling with the people, eliciting a smile, and lending a hand. We listened to their stories. The people who visit this kitchen built this country as teachers, doctors, and engineers. They are its backbone, its heart and soul.