MODESTO -- When Salvation Army Capt. Michael Paugh was in seminary, he taught himself to play the guitar.
"My worst fear was that I'd be sent to a Salvation Army church that didn't have a pianist," he said. "I decided I'd better learn an instrument."
He put that skill to work about a month ago when he began playing to the crowd waiting for The Salvation Army's weekday lunches.
"I was at a conference about two or three months ago," Paugh, 52, said. "The speaker talked about how many people are out there serving meals. But, he asked, is that the only thing we're giving to people a meal? It challenged me to go out and do songs with the people."
He started with simple Sunday school songs, he said "songs they can remember and take with them" like "Jesus Loves Me," "I Want to be a Sheep," "I've Got a River of Life Flowing Out of Me."
Paugh said the songs sparked memories in some people of hearing them when they were children.
Then, he said, he discovered that "a lot of these people know the old hymns, like 'The Old Rugged Cross' and 'Amazing Grace.' So we try to play some of those as well."
Adding the songs to the midday meals has been a hit, he said. "It's been great. Today, we had people who knew the words, so I asked them to come up and sing with me. They loved that. If they weren't excited, or if it were something that bothered them, I wouldn't do it."
Paugh said about 100 people show up for the meals at the beginning of the month, increasing to nearly 300 toward the end of each month as money gets tight.
The Salvation Army is at 625 I St. in downtown Modesto. Hot meals are served at noon on weekdays. For more, call (209) 522-3200.
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2012.