Community kitchen is back in full swing and needing extra hands
The community kitchen at Saint Michael’s Church is in desperate need of volunteers to work in the kitchen and deliver meals.
On Tuesday, the kitchen served 210 meals with five kitchen volunteers and three drivers. The kitchen serves free lunch every Tuesday and dinner every Thursday to community members in need.
“You ought to come and see how grateful people are to get a meal and take food home,” said Beth Newkirk, who has been volunteering at the kitchen for 10 years.
The kitchen is open to volunteers of any age. There are volunteers as young as 11 years old and drivers who are close to their 80s. Newkirk said the kitchen will take any help it can get, even if someone only has 15 to 30 minutes to lend a hand.
Volunteers working in the kitchen and dining room at Saint Michael’s can simply drop in and help. Newkirk said the group starts preparing food as early as 9 a.m. on Tuesdays, and 11 a.m. on Thursdays.
Beth Gilchrist, a volunteer for three years, said there is a nice flow to working on the kitchen line, everyone is helpful and everyone gets along really well.
Newkirk said the kitchen welcomes groups to volunteer, whether it’s a service group or a workplace, and it’s a great opportunity to volunteer together. Recently there was even a family who was passing through Craig from Elk, Nevada, who came in to volunteer at the kitchen.
Volunteers hoping to deliver food will need to complete a background check before being able to start delivering. On Tuesday, 155 of the meals served were home deliveries.
When Newkirk started volunteering 10 years ago, the kitchen was serving 45 meals per day, now it’s over 200 during each meal service.
“Our numbers just keep growing,” she said.
According to Newkirk, before the pandemic the basement of Saint Michael’s church would be full of community members during meals.The dining room was closed during the pandemic, but the kitchen still provided meals for to-go or delivery.
Now that the dining room is back open, community members have slowly started to come back inside for meals. Newkirk said that lots of people are still scared to be there in person.
“Each day more and more people are coming in to eat,” Newkirk said.
The majority of people the community kitchen serves are seniors and many are veterans. About 60% of the people served are homebound, so they rely on other people to get them groceries and supplies, Newkirk said.
For many of the homebound customers, the meal delivery drivers may be the only face they see during the week. Newkirk said that because of that, drivers and volunteers end up building relationships with the people they are bringing meals to.
“It’s a great service we provide,” she said. “I don’t know what I would do without it.”
Most of the kitchen volunteers have been volunteering for several years, but volunteer numbers are down recently.
“We’re down to the last little group,” Newkirk said.
There are other community organizations that help make the community kitchen run. Three times per week City Market and Walmart do a food rescue where excess or slightly damaged food gets delivered to the kitchen.
The kitchen also receives sandwiches from the local Kum & Go stores, as well as donations of meat from Brothers Processing and local ranchers.
If the kitchen receives more food than it can use, managers are quick to make sure that it goes directly to people who need it, whether through the local food bank or other human services organizations.
“We live in a good community,” Newkirk said. “We really do.”
The Food Bank of the Rockies also contributes supplies to the kitchen. The weekly meals are no small operation. Newkirk said they always try to put together decent meals for people. For the Thursday evening meal, volunteers are already preparing to cook 65 pounds of chicken and 25 pounds of rice for stir fry.
For more information about the community kitchen and volunteering, stop by Saint Michael’s church at 678 School St. on Tuesday or Thursday. The church’s doors are always open.
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