Community Kitchen feeds big crowds

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 January 2014 at 12:00 am

Albion site would like bigger freezer, money for supplies

Photos by Tom Rivers – R.J. Bannan stopped by the Community Kitchen at Christ Church in Albion on Friday. Elder Brian Houskeeper of the Mormon Church volunteered as a server.

ALBION – For 20 years Christ Church has been home to the Community Kitchen, providing hot meals on Fridays to local residents.

R.J. Bannan has been a regular at the site for more than a decade. He praised the volunteers who cook and serve the meals every week.

“It’s excellent food and the people are friendly,” Bannan said Friday evening. He sat down and ate the chicken casserole dinner, and went back for two desserts of cherry crisp.

The kitchen has become increasingly busy on Fridays. Faith Smith, the manager, says there are many working poor in the community, and elderly seniors who see their funds depleted by utilities, gas and other expenses.

“When I started here I only pictured homeless people at soup kitchens,” Smith said. “But there are so many people who need us and depend on us.”

Faith Smith, manager of the Community Kitchen at Christ Church for more than four years, is pictured with her daughter Savana Farewell.

The Community Kitchen nearly closed about four years ago, but a committed core of volunteers has kept it going.

“I’ve thought about walking away, but I just can’t do it,” Smith said. “I’ve grown to love these people.”

On Friday, the church served nearly 300 meals with 121 take-outs and 171 people eating in the dining room. There were 29 kids, 43 seniors and 99 other adults who ate at the dining hall on Friday.

Smith has served as the volunteer manager for the kitchen since September 2009. The first night she managed the site, she served 79 dinners. The record so far: 384. On that night, Baxter Healthcare paid for and prepared tacos.

Baxter in Medina provides about $5,000 a year for the kitchen, which has about a $9,000 annual budget. It relies on many donations from Foodlink and the community.

It takes about a dozen volunteers each Friday to prep the food, serve it and then clean up the kitchen and dining hall. Baxter employees serve on the first and second Fridays. Holy Family Parish takes the third Fridays and the Free Methodist Church works on the fourth Fridays. West Barre United Methodist Church serves on the fifth Fridays.

Debbie Mulcahy, an employee at Baxter Healthcare in Medina, helps at Community Kitchen.

Debbie Mulcahy of Byron has been serving in the kitchen the first and second Fridays for more than a year. She has worked a Baxter the past 2 ½ years. She worked at a different company for 24 years and then was let go in a downsizing. She was unemployed for a year before getting a job in Medina. She had a tough year when she was without a job.

“I realize there by the grace of God go I,” she said.

She is surprised to see so many people at the kitchen, including many families with young children.

“It’s sad to see that many people in need,” she said.

Stephanie Cox has been coming to the kitchen the past two months. She stops by after working at the Main Street Store.

She talks with some of the other people in the dining hall. She said the meals and the fellowship is important to local residents.

“It’s that one time a week for a lot of people that they get a hot meal,” she said.

Smith said the volunteers will serve anybody who comes in.

“You could be a millionaire and you get treated the same as a homeless person,” she said.

Robin Dirmyer, a Baxter employee, works in the kitchen with her husband Chuck, a Kodak employee. Baxter employees help prepare and serve meals the first and second Fridays each month.

Smith said she has enough volunteers to prepare and serve the meals each week, but the Community Kitchen could use donations for paper products – plates, cups, take-out containers and cups.

She would like to replace a small household-size freezer with an industrial-size one. That would cost about $3,000. A bigger freezer would let her store more food and give her more options for planning the meals.

She would also like to upgrade the kitchen, which was designed for occasional servings in the fellowship hall for the Episcoal congregation.

“This wasn’t designed to put out 300-plus meals on a Friday,” she said.

For more information on the kitchen, contact Smith at 585-319-1578.