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Heaven's Helpers Soup Cafe is adding a wheelchair-accessible shower, a laundry room and computers for community members in need of such amenities.

The facilities will be available in December. Visitors will be able to use them with "soup cafe bucks" earned from volunteering at the nonprofit at 220 N. 23rd St. in Bismarck.

The system could help the soup kitchen maintain the 30 volunteers it needs daily to operate, according to Executive Director Mark Meier.

"It will help a lot because even with the opening of all this stuff in the back, it's going to create more work and more need for volunteers that will help backfill and make the soup cafe better," he said. 

Finding volunteers has been an issue for the soup kitchen, including this past summer. In June, Meier said it was at risk of closing without more volunteers.

Patrons will be able to earn a soup cafe buck for every hour they volunteer. Duties will include chopping vegetables, washing dishes, breaking down boxes and cleaning toilets. One soup cafe buck would be worth a 30-minute shower, use of a washer and dryer, or a one-hour session on a computer.

The BisMan Community Foundation on Monday awarded Heaven's Helpers Soup Cafe a $50,000 grant, which the soup kitchen applied for as part of an overall effort to boost services. The organization selected the soup kitchen out of 12 area groups that applied, said Gina Hruby, chairwoman of the foundation's advisory committee. 

The grant is aimed at nonprofits and government agencies with projects supporting the "citizens of Bismarck, Mandan and surrounding communities," according to the foundation's website. 

"They serve roughly 300 people daily at the soup cafe. That's a significant number of people to be dealing with one paid position and then all volunteers and donated food," Hruby said. "And so the purpose of the grant was to afford them the opportunity to hire a crisis coordinator to help assist these folk beyond just a hot meal."

Meier said he plans to fill the position by December. The staff member will connect people to housing, identification and other agencies.

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"Our goal is to take people from the rut that they might be in into a productive citizen in the community," Meier said. 

Heaven's Helpers opened in 2009 on Memorial Highway. In 2015, the nonprofit lost the lease on its building. It reopened at its current location three years later. 

Bruce Wheeler, 61, goes to the soup cafe "every day, three times a day." He said he already volunteers by picking up trash outside the building and shoveling snow -- duties for which people will be awarded soup bucks, according to Meier.

"The people who benefit from (the soup cafe), I think it's their responsibility to help keep it going," Wheeler said. "You help people, you hold the door open for people."

For more information about Heaven’s Helpers or to volunteer, visit soupcafe.org, contact mark@soupcafe.org or call (701) 751-SOUP.

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Reach Andy Tsubasa Field at 701-250-8264 or andy.field@bismarcktribune.com.

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City Government Reporter