Three years ago, Terry Pitt ran a successful catering business in Howard County. She said her checkbook was fat and her heart was empty.
Today, as the founder and director of the nonprofit Stone Soup Foundation in Carroll County, it's the opposite -- her account is empty and her heart is full.
Stone Soup Foundation marries Pitt's love for nutritious cooking with her desire to help people. Pitt created the organization in December 2010 with the mission of alleviating hunger in Carroll County.
"I want to feed folks in need of healthy, balanced meals, and I want to be able to go to them," Pitt said.
Pitt said she had to make some major life changes as a battle against cancer, a deteriorating marriage and a stressful career forced her to take a hard look at her life. She closed her catering business, moved to Carroll County and started helping people in a way that she never had before.
Pitt conducted a lot of research. She looked into what meal opportunities exist for homeless people and people in need in Carroll County. She explored the costs associated with feeding people a healthy meal, and she befriended people who go to soup kitchens and food pantries.
What she found is that for $1.97 she could feed a grown man a meal that includes a lean protein, a healthy starch, a fresh garden vegetable, a bowl of fresh homemade soup, a bread product and what she said many of those she spoke to told her they really miss: a glass of milk.
She expects to be serving between 520 and 560 meals a week.
Pitt said that her original plan was to have a facility in which she could provide meals for those in need. But she said that renting a building was too expensive.
"So then I thought, instead of them coming to me, why don't I go to them? And the mobile idea was born," Pitt said.
She bought a school bus through an auction and is almost finished outfitting it with a complete commercial kitchen. She expects her maiden voyage to take place on June 15.
"The outside of the bus is fun and ecclectic; you won't miss us coming down the road," Pitt said. "But the inside is very serious."
The red bus with graffiti style letters and animated vegetables will be equipped with an eight-burner range, a double oven, a microwave, three sinks, a refrigerator and plenty of cabinets.
Pitt is working with other nonprofit organizations and municipalities to decide where the bus will be most needed. She said at this point she knows she will visit locations in Westminster and Taneytown.
Holly Hutchins, deputy director of Human Service Programs of Carroll County said they are already partnering with Pitt and plan to do more.
"Terry has done a great job being out in the trenches and connecting with people who may not be connected with our services," Hutchins said. "She has seen firsthand what we know to be true - even though we live in a very generous community with lots of resources, many people aren't able to get to them."
Pitt said that much of the funding for her project comes from a $10,000 grant she received from St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Westminster. The day-to-day costs are covered by other fundraisers that include selling used books on Amazon and the creation and sales of a community cookbook.
"Money, or lack thereof, is the hardest part of the doing this," Pitt said. "It's long work but it's wonderful work."
"We're not just throwing out food on a plate and moving them through a line," Pitt said. "I want them to feel loved and supported."