Going to the extremes in debate over Jusst Sooup

Dale Dunning and son Brooks wave to well-wishers after finding out they had been selected to be featured on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Husband Ken is at far left. BY RON MACARTHUR
November 9, 2011

The recent decision by the Sussex County Board of Adjustment to deny Jusst Sooup Ministries the opportunity to serve soup at its new location in Coolspring caught a lot of people off guard. Many thought the board would approve the application, including at least one member of Sussex County Council. Joan Deaver said she was shocked when she heard about the decision.

It seems ironic that the decision comes just about two weeks from the time the ministry is scheduled to be featured on the hit television show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” on ABC. Thousands of volunteers banded forces with builder Schell Brothers this past summer to build the Jusst Sooup Ranch for the Dunnings.

In a rare show of emotion in the board’s meeting room, some people shouted, “Shame on you!” following the vote. Others gathered outside the county administration building to shield Dale and Ken Dunning from the media. The Dunnings are the ministry.

It’s true that you cannot operate a commercial kitchen in an AR-1 zoning district without special permission from the county. There are two commercial-type kitchens within a few feet of one another with that permission in Coolspring: Bella’s Cookies and Juust Sooup Ministries. The two have been granted home-occupation status by the county’s director of planning and zoning under a process that does not require a public hearing.

The Dunnings wanted to go one step further by serving food in their new soup kitchen at the beautiful Jusst Sooup Ranch. For now, they can’t do much of anything with the facility. Sadly, the home occupation regulations restrict volunteers or employees from working at the site.

You can argue until the cows come home about the merits of the application, but the bottom line is this: the board makes exceptions all the time to the county’s zoning code. They chose not to make an exception for Jusst Sooup Ministry. In this case, they compared the proposed use to a restaurant and said allowing a soup kitchen would have a negative impact on the surrounding area.

While many people got caught up in the hoopla of the big TV event and build during August, most residents of Coolspring were not excited about the project at all. Even though they respect what the Dunnings have done, they said it was forced down their throats as nothing more than a TV show. They said the soup kitchen would attract undesirable people into their community.

I’ve tried to look at this issue from the perspective of a person who lives nearby. The basic question is this: would you like a soup kitchen in your community? The answer is a simple one because soup kitchens and other similar programs already exist at churches and other facilities in communities all over the place. Some occur without neighbors even realizing what is going on.

From my half century of experience, people tend to look at the extremes; things are never quite as bad as people perceive them to be.

I’ve served on the other side of the table as a member of a city council and heard every possible complaint a person can up with. I’ve heard residents say their neighborhood was going to be taken over by criminals and turned into a slum. I’ve heard residents say people moving into a group home were going to hurt their children. In every case, things never turned out as bad as people imagined.

Dale and Ken Dunning are as devoted to their cause as any two people I have ever met. No matter which way this issue is ultimately resolved, they will continue doing what they have done for the past 12 years – serve the Lord by helping as many people as they can.


  • Ron MacArthur has lived and worked in Sussex County all his life. As a journalist for more than 40 years, he has covered everything from county and town meetings to presidential visits. He also has a unique perspective having served as an elected official and lived on both sides of the county.

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