Around noon each weekday, people congregate outside a large church off West Capitol Street. Inside, in front of the kitchen, a row of people stand behind a long table of food and serve spoonfuls of this and handfuls of that to those in line.
It's lunchtime at Stewpot Community Services, and Frank Spencer, executive director, stands off to the side, watching as Stewpot does what it's meant to do—serve the people of Jackson. Spencer says that, between Meals on Wheels, the two meals a day for those who live in the shelters and the meals in the community kitchen, Stewpot serves about 400 to 450 meals each day. "That is how Stewpot started off, and that is how people think of us, you know, as a feeding program, but they really don't know about the other things we do, like the shelters," Spencer says. "They don't realize it's Stewpot. They think of it as Matt's House, Flowers House and Billy Brumfield (Shelter) doing those things."
The organization has grown tremendously since its start in 1981, moving and expanding locations. Stewpot now includes a food pantry, clothes closet, a computer and business lab, and other services. Spencer says the organization's 7,000-9,000 volunteers, 25 full-time staff members and 25 part-timers help around 650 people a day.
Spencer, 67, has been with the organization since the early 2000s. Around 1998, a new clergyperson named Carol, who is now his wife, came to Chapel of the Cross with the goal of getting church members more involved in the community. He began volunteering at Stewpot in 1998, and then in 2002, when the then-executive director of Stewpot left, Spencer applied for the job and has been in the position ever since.
Spencer graduated from Ole Miss with degrees in biology and psychology in 1970. He started law school at Ole Miss that same year, and dropped out, but then went back in 1974 and graduated with a law degree.
For 30 years, he worked with the attorney general's office, his tenure spanning from A.F. Summer to Mike Moore. Though he is retired from the state, he still serves on Attorney General Jim Hood's opinion committee and is also still a member of the state bar.
As executive director of Stewpot, Spencer oversees the 16 different ministries and ensures that the organization has the funds to perform its services, which includes raising money at events such as Taste of Mississippi or applying for grants. From time to time, Spencer says he finds himself advocating for the impoverished or other issues. "It's very rewarding," he says. "Of course, you see some people acting out and that kind of thing, but you see the best that people have to offer when they come and help, and they can donate, and they help us out. It's just very rewarding to see people like that and it's rewarding to help those that need it."