After Getting Rejected from a Soup Kitchen, the Upstate Atheists Have Found Another Way to Help the Homeless

The Upstate Atheists from Spartanburg, South Carolina have worked with Adopt-A-Highway, Habitat for Humanity, and the Generous Garden Project, and they made plans this past spring to volunteer at the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen:

As one of the members told me, though, that didn’t work out too well:

We asked the director… whether or not it would be permissible for us to wear t-shirts with our organization’s logo on them. She told us that we were not welcome to volunteer at the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen because they are a “place of God,” and she knew “our motivations.”

Even after the group promised not to wear shirts with their logos — that they just wanted to help — the soup kitchen still refused to let them in.

So the atheists have come up with an alternative plan: With a permit from the city in hand, they’ll be giving away care packages for the homeless across the street from the kitchen (and other locations as well):

Each care package costs about $15 to assemble. They have socks, gloves, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, snacks, mini flashlights, lip balm, ponchos, etc.

We are hoping to help the homeless prepare for the winter and give them thing they will be able to use.

They’ve already made about 30 packages, but they’d like to make a lot more. If you can help them out, please consider donating here!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • DougI

    It doesn’t matter how good Atheists are, there will still be those who honor hatred over humanity.

    • Jim Jones

      If they let the atheists help, it wouldn’t make them feel so ‘special’.

      • Monika Jankun-Kelly

        If they let the atheists help, it might shatter their stereotypes about atheists. Can’t have that! Reality shall not intrude on dogma!

  • Gabriel

    She knew their “motivations”? What a bitch.

    • allein

      To serve soup? Oh, no!

      • duke_of_omnium

        Well, it WAS a bisque

      • Monika Jankun-Kelly

        To serve soup WHILE BEING AN ATHEIST! The horror! Can you imagine if a Christian child saw someone serving soup who happened to be an atheist? They might realize atheists can care about people! Won’t somebody think of the children!

        • allein

          In their honor I just may have soup for dinner.

  • Stev84

    More proof that religious “charity” is mostly about proselytizing instead of charity.

    • Lee Miller

      It’s ONLY about proselytizing. Period.

      • icecreamassassin

        That may apply to the goals of the religious organization set up for charity work, but I think the majority of the volunteers working with these organizations – those doing the charity work – care more about the charity part and less about the proselytizing part. Just don’t want that distinction being lost.

        Caveat…I can’t back up that ‘majority’ part with any objective data unfortunately. I’m making that claim based on my personal experience with people, so take with a grain of salt.

        • Carpinions

          But how much is that charity diminished if they are preventing others from offering it and magnifying the effect?

      • Jim Jones

        I remember from quite a while back someone commenting that she had been part of her church’s efforts to feed the poor. She noted, however, that they didn’t seem to be targeting the very poor – everyone was living in an apartment – and finally realized that the program was more about trying to get new members for the church.

        (Sorry, no link now.)

  • Gabriel

    I had to go to the soup kitchen Facebook page and tell them that I thought that what they did was pretty bad.

    • Ralph Horque

      It’s already been censored, apparently.

      • Gabriel

        That was fast.

        • Sarah

          Is it? One comment from another reader here is still on the page for me. I’ll watch it.

          • Gabriel

            It’s still there. I just checked.

  • sam

    Step 1: Insist that homosexuals are bad by asserting that they do not commit to monogamous relationships.
    Step 2: Make every possible effort to prevent homosexuals from legally committing to monogamous relationships.
    Step 3: Rinse and repeat.
    Step 1: Insist that atheist are evil by asserting that they do not engage in charity.
    Step 2: Make every possible effort to prevent atheists from engaging in charity.
    Step 3: Rinse and repeat.
    Funny how you don’t see Joe Klein handing out care packages.

  • Michael Harrison

    Those crafty atheists, being upfront about who they are!

  • Paul Reed

    Isn’t it weird how theists (think they) know more about our thoughts, knowledge and motivations than we do…?

    • observer

      Not when you remember that they know “the truth”, and believe they have all the wisdom of mankind just because they’re spiritually intimate with their own god.

    • Richard Wade

      Yeah, another psychic Christian who claims she can read others’ minds. I thought telepathy was supposed to be demonic.

      But rather than merely grumble about the bigotry of the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen director, I’m donating some money for a few of those care packages. Go Upstate Atheists! Thank you for what you do.

    • smrnda

      Yet they have no problem using charity as a means of promoting their own beliefs. If the issue was getting food to hungry and homeless people, who would care what your t shirt promotes?

      • SeRiOuSLy!!??

        if thats the case then why did the atheist initially insist on wearing theirs to push their agenda obviously in a place opposite their disbeliefs and again obviously to cause trouble just so they can do this very thing, slander and defame the soup kitchen. this is nothing more the the underhanded, shameful, on going attack by atheist and the f.f.r.f. against all things Christian. i’d wish you guys would start trying all this crap on muslims for a change, maybe after a few acid baths and beheadings you’ll just be happy just being.

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          Your paranoia, ignorance of the actual issues, fatwa envy, ignorance of this website and what is said here, and desperate need to speak without correcting even just your ignorance are noted.

          Weird how you never complain about Christians insisting on pushing their beliefs on others, but screech and wail over t-shirts that, according to the article you brilliantly failed to read, they politely and helpfully offered to forgo. Nothing matters to you except your prejudice and hypocrisy.

          • SeRiOuSLy!!??

            HAHA…typical response…attack!! i did say initial, being you attempted to impress upon everybody the notion of being such an intellectual with your diatribe, lends me to believe you understood that i acknowledged they offered to remove their shirts.
            as far as this website, i’m not concerned with it. i didn’t come to it, but came across the article and commented on it…its called a link. you do know how those work, right?
            as far as atheist go, when you don’t stand for anything or believe in anything its pretty easy to call people out for being hypocritical. especially people of religion who are human, with faults, who are trying to follow, who they understand to be a perfect being. you mock and ridicule them for never reaching that goal when they’ll never be able to.
            as far as your remarks about my “fatwa envy” i have to laugh even more because i’ve yet to see any atheist or the f.f.r.f. make any attempt to stop, block or censor anything muslims do, yet they are in govt buildings and schools. in fact their religion is even being taught in schools to a captive audience right now and you doing nothing to stop it. but lets not have a nativity scene be public for Christmas, right? i don’t know of any Christian group that has imposed itself onto anybody or into anyplace. i’ve only known them to go where they have been invited or people go to them voluntarily. the only group that claims to be and has done such is westboro and nobody, including all Christians, tolerates them for they are truly all about hate.
            maybe to you, just the sight of an inanimate object that has a religious mark or saying on it is “pushing” and somehow offensive. i mean, nobody is making you look at it or read it, you could just walk on by. i mean, if upon entering a govt building and the ten commandments hung on the wall, i don’t know about you, i never had a govt official there force me to read it and demand i follow them to the letter in order to remain in the building. i’ve never seen a church member in congress submitting bills, i’ve never driven pass a monument or a cemetery seeing a religious symbol and had anything happen that offended me. in fact nothing happens when i drive pass the churches and mosque nearly every day. in fact the only people who have ever pushed anything on me, try to infringe on me or be confrontational has been atheist.

  • observer

    “she knew ‘our motivations.’”

    Doing good deed because it’s for the good of mankind, rather then going to heaven? the fiends.

    • Monika Jankun-Kelly

      How dare they? HOW DARE THEY?! Fiendish fiends indeed!

  • Birdie1986

    Christians are always so kind and welcoming, and hypocritical. If it’s a “place of God” it’s supposed to be open to everyone. Just another example of Christians not even understanding their own religion.

  • Bdole

    “place of God,” and she knew “our motivations.”

  • Beth

    Yet we hear all the time that atheist aren’t charitable. How can we help if organizations won’t let us in?

    • JacobBe5

      By creating our own, donating to non-sectarian charities, donating funds even when they reject our physical assistance, helping in ways other than that particular venue. There are innumerable ways one can assist and be a positive member in the community beyond helping at that particular soup kitchen.

      When the initial approach has people saying ‘We’d like to help, mind if we advertise who we are while we do it?’ I can understand why they would from that point forward suspect they are less motivated by a feeling of charity than one of recognition. Do I agree with their decision, no, but I can understand some apprehension.

      Lets be clear here they are an “inter-denominational, inter-faith ministry” who “share a common belief that when we serve those in need, we serve God.”

      Yes, that excludes some people, namely us atheists. We are right to point out they are refusing assistance, but wrong if we think they should be welcoming us with open arms.

      • LesterBallard

        Fuck them. See my above comment.

      • smrnda

        Their real motives is they don’t want people to see atheists being nice and charitable. If the case is they think it’s more about recognition than charity, then about every faith based charity is already more about recognition than charity by being overt about their faith based identity, so they’re criticizing atheists for what they already do.

        • JacobBe5

          That is possible. Having been in the south for some time I can affirm many churches advocate for the ‘atheists are evil’ mode of thought. It means I have to deal with the repercussions of that message.

          But I’d be a fool to think those particular churches are going to invite me in and help me get my message out otherwise.

          And I’m no fool. So I say ensure people know the truth and move forward. But worrying about getting in that place is like expecting them to gladly give you the pulpit.

          • smrnda

            I’d agree,but I find many Christians are very inconsistent or have very blatantly hypocritical views on ‘getting their message out’ – wearing a Christian t shirt is somehow neutral but an atheist one is ideological. Opening a non-overtly-religious meeting with an obviously Christian prayer or playing Christian praise music is somehow neutral but not having a prayer is ‘official atheist.’ I actually have zero interest in taking part in ‘faith based’ or ‘inter-faith’ groups just because I don’t want them to take ownership of my generosity, time and effort.

  • Joe Zamecki

    Excellent. Outstanding.

  • MartinRC

    Since the soup kitchen is a 501 (c) 3 based public charity, I actually think this may be illegal based on what information I have been able to find.'s.htm “They provide services to everyone without regard to race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Nor are they permitted to discriminate in hiring practices whenever government money is involved.”

    • JacobBe5

      From their website:
      “The Spartanburg Soup Kitchen relies solely on the donation of time, money, and goods from individuals, groups, small businesses, and corporations. We receive no government funding. ”

      Maybe it isn’t true, but I’ve not seen anything to the contrary.

      • Martinrc

        Thanks, Makes sense.

    • freemage

      Yeah, volunteers can be turned away for any reason. If the kitchen was hiring a program director, they MIGHT be obliged to consider an atheist as a viable candidate, but even that would be a stretch, given that this would probably be argued as part of the church’s ministry, and thus gain exemptions on that front. What they absolutely cannot do is turn away atheist ‘clients’.

      So if the atheist group were to pass out clothing with their group-logo on it to the homeless population, the soup kitchen could not turn away people wearing that clothing. If they did, THAT would make their situation a lot more vulnerable to legal action.

  • Martinrc

    BTW, the group is deleting any negative comments regarding this incident from their Facebook page. Thats always a sign they didn’t do anything wrong, right?

    • Suzie

      The soup kitchen or the atheist group?

      • Pinky Rose

        The soup kitchen. Not us!

  • martinrc

    “our motivations” being to actually help people and not try to appease some peeping tom in the sky.

  • Goape

    “There are no atheists in foxholes”—because all of the presumptuous asshole christians threw them out.

  • James

    Religions can’t risk atheists intruding on their philanthropy cartels.

  • newavocation

    Crosses? Crosses? We don’t need no stinkin crosses.

  • LesterBallard

    We see what being a Christian is all about. If Christians had to choose between giving a hungry person food or a Bible or tracts, they’d get the Bible or tracts. Well, at least they could wipe their asses with those; that’s all they’re good for.

  • madphd

    I’m not sure about this one. If I were running a secular charity that required the help of volunteers, I’d be pretty peeved if a group of volunteers wanted to come in wearing t-shirts that promoted their faith. I would then be a bit leery of their motives even if they then agreed not to wear their shirts.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Imagine if, instead of shirts, it was yamakas or Boy Scout uniforms.

      • madphd

        But those are different, aren’t they. A yamaka, would be akin to someone wearing a cross on a chain. It is an article of their faith, but it doesn’t say, “hey, come to my church”. And, although Boy Scouts still, unfortunately, have a religious slant, they are not about teaching religion. I don’t know anyone who would say, “hey, that scout is trying to get me to go to church.”

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          I don’t see a shirt that declares membership in a group to be an attempt to entice or proselytize, or to be substantially different from an article of faith. I work with several Christians who own and wear shirts they earned as part of church service groups. They’re not signs that the wearers are up to anything funny; they’re just signs that they don’t hide their identities.

          No analogy is perfect, but a yamaka does make a statement about how the wearer may view others. A Boy Scout sash is intended to be a sign of upholding a specific code that is to be shown through example. But none of these things – shirts, religious garb, sashes – in itself says anything suspicious about the wearer. There ARE shirts that identify the wearer as being untrustworthy in some or even any position, but people who volunteer for soup kitchens don’t wear those shirts.

          Related: Though I don’t claim to be a mind reader, I can opine with a high degree of certainty that the director wouldn’t have had so much of a problem if the group had been Christian Bikers For Real Families and been wearing shirts that denigrated equal marriage rights.

          • smrnda

            This happen with volunteer organizations I work with all the time. In a college town we usually get campus organizations – engineers without borders, fraternities and sororities, student ethnic/cultural groups, and we’ve never told them not to wear their shirts and it never even comes up. If a Christian group wore them I’d probably not see it as an issue, unless they attempted to subvert the volunteer activity into a recruitment push.

    • David Kopp

      Given that she said the soup kitchen was a “place of God”, not sure that really qualifies as secular. It’s pure religious discrimination.

      • madphd

        I think there’s a misunderstanding. When I said, “If I were running a secular charity….” I was speaking hypothetically. I was trying to look at this from the other side of the coin… so to speak. Also, I’m making the assumption that this soup kitchen is being run from or by a church. If not, then I would agree that it is discriminatory.

        • Bdole

          I’d agree, but they said that they wouldn’t wear their shirts.

          Even after the group promised not to wear shirts with their logos — that they just wanted to help — the soup kitchen still refused to let them in.

  • Sweetredtele

    Strange, the actions taken are exactly the opposite as how they say they treat volunteers.

    Instead of Facebook, you can find e-mail and a phone number here:

  • Carpinions

    “Atheists can’t be moral…because we won’t let them.”

  • Christopher Salihe Payne

    Stories like this really demonstrate just how beleaguered and persecuted Christians are in this country, just like they’re always claiming.


  • Know

    Wow, that was SO christian of them!! Guess they didn’t need the help very bad.

  • ecolt

    This is a beautiful idea, for many reasons. My now-fiance and I spent many months traveling the country on foot, supporting ourselves by playing music on street corners and often through the generosity of others. One of the most frustrating memories I have is being given a care package in New Orleans. Along with the usual supplies these packages often have (snacks, bottled water, tissues, toothbrush, etc) each contained a small New Testament. Since we already had a Bible (makes great emergency rolling papers or even toilet paper) I just threw mine out. It wasn’t until a few days later, when we needed to rip out a page to roll a cigarette with, that we realized there was a McDonald’s gift card INSIDE the book. So the take-home message was that some groups only think you’re deserving of food or a hot coffee if you read the Bible. Funny thing is that another girl we knew had given away her New Testament because, as a Christian, she already carried around a much nicer copy. So I guess believers can’t get a hot meal either.

    • Bdole

      When I get home, I’m checking my past “birthday gifts” for hidden cash! And THEN I’ll sell the damn apologetics books. Anyone here wanna buy a copy of “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”?

  • Monika Jankun-Kelly

    She knew “our motivations”. I’m really curious what she thought our motivations were besides feed the hungry. We want to wear atheist tees to show atheists are normal people who care about others? That’s probably what she objects to. Of course, her proudly wearing her church tee is just fine. Or maybe she thinks we’re trying to get in there to deconvert all the Christians? We’re going to put “God is Not Great” in a Ziploc baggie and hide it at the bottom of the soup bowl! Mua ha ha ha!

  • VoxAtheos

    Yet another example of religious hypocrisy. It’s great to see atheist communities doing positive things in their larger communities. That is how we should be fighting.

  • kaydenpat

    Good for Upstate Atheists. That lady who rejected their help sounds a bit paranoid. Did she think they would try to sway people to their side while giving them food? Sounds like projection.

  • Derrik Pates

    Yes, those filthy atheists, she knows their motivations. Wanting to help people, without a threatening absentee father figure to shame them into it. Can’t be having that.

  • dickcote

    Having dealt, with great distaste, with Christian “nonprofts”, I have seen that we non-evangelical heathens can do more good without bonding with the Christian right than with them. The Xians have no monopoly on human kindness, but their evangelical religious zealotry leaves no avenues of cooperation with the likee of us. Better we develop our own parallel organizations and programs to do what needs to be done to make the world a better (religion-zealotless) place. Dick Cote’, member, Secular Humanists of the [SC] Lowcountry /