Martha Martinez carries lunch to a table during St. Michael’s Kitchen free lunch Tuesday at St. Michael Catholic Church. A group of volunteers serve meals to those in need and bring hot food to people shut in their homes.

Photo by Shawn McHugh

Martha Martinez carries lunch to a table during St. Michael’s Kitchen free lunch Tuesday at St. Michael Catholic Church. A group of volunteers serve meals to those in need and bring hot food to people shut in their homes.

St. Michael’s Kitchen averaging more than 60 at weekly meals

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Marcia Sfreddo looks through bread during a free lunch Tuesday at St. Michael Catholic Church. Guests were encouraged to bring home breads donated by local grocery stores.

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Pam Hastings dishes lasagna to Francisco Reina and other volunteers during a free lunch Tuesday at St. Michael Catholic Church. The kitchen has expanded since its January inception to serve about 60 people at each of the twice-weekly meals.

If you go

What: A free, hot meal at St. Michael’s Kitchen

Where: Basement of St. Michael Catholic Church, 678 School St.

When: 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays and 4 to 6 p.m. Thursdays

Before 91-year-old Elna Yoast sat down to lunch Tuesday in the basement of St. Michael Catholic Church, she approached Pam Hastings, a volunteer with St. Michael’s Kitchen.

Yoast, who eats at the kitchen every week, wanted to give something back before she took her lunch for the day.

“Can I bring in some meat or something?” she asked Hastings. “Maybe some lamb? It’s just that I come in here every week, and I want to do something.”

“It’s not necessary,” Hastings said with a smile to the small, white-haired Yoast. “But we’d really appreciate it.”

As Yoast approached the counter, a host of smiling volunteers clad in aprons greeted her and filled a plate high with lasagna and a chicken rice casserole.

“The food’s good, and the company’s good,” said Marian Pape, Yoast’s daughter who has enjoyed lunch with her mother every week since the kitchen opened just after Christmas. “This is a great outreach to the community.”

For more than two months, the kitchen has been serving a free hot meal twice a week to anyone who comes through its doors.

The kitchen is open from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays and 4 to 6 p.m Thursdays.

One volunteer is assigned to cook with ingredients donated by The Memorial Hospital’s cafeteria, local grocery stores and meat processors.

Volunteer Mo Ridnour said numbers have been increasing and the kitchen serves as many as 65 people for each meal, including those who are shut in their homes and receive meals delivered by volunteers.

City Market and Safeway also donate bread products, and kitchen volunteers set bread, bagels and rolls out for people to take with them when they leave.

“I think it’s that we’re consistent,” Ridnour said about the increasing numbers. “People know we’re here.”

She said Tuesdays are her favorite day of the week because of all the new and familiar faces that show up at the counter with a smile.

“I love all the people that come,” Ridnour said. “It’s like when I was little and used to go to my grandparents’ for dinner. Just lots and lots of family gathered around to share a meal.”

The dish of the day varies with what is available through donations, but sometimes the menu is aligned with a national holiday.

Patty Murphy is in her second week of volunteering, and has signed up to make an Irish stew Thursday in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

She said cooking is her passion, and she couldn’t think of anything more fulfilling to spend her time between jobs.

“I think this is something every town needs,” Murphy said. “People need to eat, and a lot of seniors are on a really tight budget and don’t always eat well.

Volunteering “is just my way of giving back to the community where I was born and raised.”

For Yoast, it’s not a matter of not having enough food at home; it’s that her food just doesn’t taste as good as the meal she receives at St. Michael’s Kitchen.

“I live alone, and (Pape) worries about me eating enough,” Yoast said. “I feel like it’s hard to find stuff that tastes good.”

She and her daughter know there are some, like them, who go to the kitchen for the atmosphere and a home-cooked meal and others who are in need of food for financial reasons.

That’s why the pair hopes to donate on their own to help provide more food for those who financially benefit from the kitchen.

“We enjoy coming to it,” Pape said. “If we can give something back. … But we’ll always get more out of it than we can possibly give back. Plus, you never know when we might really need it, too.”

Nicole Inglis can be reached at 875-1793, or ninglis@craigdailypress.com.

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