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.

  • Gabriel

    She knew their “motivations”? What a bitch.

  • Stev84

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

  • Gabriel

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

  • 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.

  • observer

    “she knew ‘our motivations.’”

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

  • 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.

  • Lee Miller

    It’s ONLY about proselytizing. Period.

  • 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?

  • Ralph Horque

    It’s already been censored, apparently.

  • Joe Zamecki

    Excellent. Outstanding.

  • allein

    To serve soup? Oh, no!

  • 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.

  • Gabriel

    That was fast.

  • 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

    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?

  • Martinrc

    Thanks, Makes sense.

  • 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.

  • duke_of_omnium

    Well, it WAS a bisque

  • James

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

  • 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.

  • Sarah

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

  • newavocation

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • LesterBallard

    Fuck them. See my above comment.

  • 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.

  • 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

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

  • 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.


  • 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?

  • 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.

  • Know

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

  • 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.”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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”?

  • Suzie

    The soup kitchen or the atheist group?

  • 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.)

  • Jim Jones

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Gabriel

    It’s still there. I just checked.

  • 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!

  • Monika Jankun-Kelly

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

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • allein

    In their honor I just may have soup for dinner.

  • 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 /

  • 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.