With hundreds of thousands of meals served, St. Michael’s Community Kitchen relies on volunteers
Since its start in 2009, the St. Michael’s Community Kitchen in Craig has served hundreds of thousands of free meals to local residents with the help of donations from the community.
However, all of those meals would not be possible without the individuals working behind the counter in the church kitchen every week.
Robin Schiffbauer was one of a handful of people who originally rallied to start the meal service. The inspiration came from a phone call to St. Michael’s from the head chef at the hospital who wanted to know if anything could be done with the extra food the hospital cafeteria had at the end of each day.
Vicar Randy Dollins asked during the next church service if anyone was willing to help, and Schiffbauer was one of the five people who stepped up to help.
In Christmas 2009, the Community Kitchen served 12 holiday meals to local residents. The church agreed to host the meals in the downstairs kitchen, and they have served two meals per week ever since.
“Part of the thinking is we don’t ask people to fill out any paperwork — we feel like feeding people is important,” Schiffbauer said. “But it’s also important for socialization. People come here to eat together and it feeds the body, mind and the spirit.”
In 12 years, the meals have grown to serve 300 people in one sitting including 180 delivered meals for homebound residents. Schiffbauer knows they couldn’t do it without the help of fellow volunteers and the generosity of local grocery stores, restaurants, ranchers, meat processors, businesses and hunters.
“I think God has put me here,” Shiffbauer said. “Even when we have been really low and the cupboards are getting bare, I’ll ask God if we should be done, and within 30 minutes we’ll get a call from someone wanting to donate a steer or do a canned food drive for us. We’ll do this as long as God will have us.”
The kitchen welcomes volunteers for any amount of time they can give, and some have been coming one or two days a week for several years.
The day after Tom Gilchrist retired in January 2013, he got a call from Bonnie Villard asking him to volunteer at the kitchen. He said as soon as he walked in, they put him to work. His wife, Beth Gilchrist, retired and joined in 2019 as a once weekly volunteer.
“We’re making up for lost time,” Tom said. “We had years that were for us, and now we want to give back to the community.”
The Gilchrists have helped with just about every volunteer job at the kitchen, and Beth said that every volunteer finds their niche. They both agreed that drivers who deliver meals to people’s homes have the hardest work because they see the needs residents have at home.
Many drivers spend their own money to deliver extra groceries to homebound clients. Beth’s brother, who is also a driver, helped a local veteran who uses a wheelchair get some needed repairs to the entryway of his home to make it more accessible.
“Everyone who is here pitches in,” Beth said. “I wouldn’t say any one of us is a hero — we’re all heroes — and the people who receive food are heroes, too.”
Like the Gilchrists, many of the volunteers were inspired to volunteer at the Community Kitchen by another volunteer. Wanda Ashbaugh, who recently started volunteering, always wanted to volunteer at the kitchen because that’s where her mom volunteered.
“I love seeing people come in with smiles on their faces,” Ashbaugh said. “There is nothing like a warm meal. This is just one of the places that makes Craig such a great community.”
Amy Fontenot and her two daughters, Mercy and Gracie, have made volunteering a family affair. The trio started volunteering to deliver meals because the girls are homeschooled and it fits in their schedule.
Volunteer Mary DeGuelle said that volunteering is her social hour and she returns for the camaraderie. Deguelle said the volunteer leaders, including Schiffbauer, have a way of bringing out the goodness in people.
Several people who receive meals at the kitchen spoke highly about the work the kitchen volunteers are doing. James Sipsey, who has diabetes and is on a keto diet, said the volunteers go out of their way to accommodate his dietary needs. Another resident said she didn’t know what Craig would do without this service in the community.
The Community Kitchen at St. Michael’s at 678 School St. in Craig serves free meals on Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Thursday 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. open to everyone in the community.
On Thursday, Nov. 24, the Community Kitchen will be serving a traditional Thanksgiving meal open to everyone in the community from 2:45 p.m. to 5 p.m. Volunteers and guests are welcome.
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