A smell like Sunday dinner at grandma's house fills the air inside Hope's Kitchen as people greet each other enthusiastically or sit down across the table to chat.
Providing a place where everyone feels welcome and people can share a free meal is at the heart of the kitchen's mission. Meals are served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the first and third Friday of the month in the parish hall of St. Mary Catholic Church, according to organizer Marie Rollins. Meals-to-go are also available.
Hope's Kitchen started five years ago as a way to fill a need, Rollins said. She began to talk to local organizations about the services they provide and learned that nobody was serving meals on Friday because they needed a day to organize and get supplies.
"I thought maybe that's something we could do in our church, you know we have the big stove, we have the refrigerator, we have all the stuff, and I thought, you know we need to start to do something else for the community," she said.
The kitchen is completely powered by donations and volunteers, and welcomes anyone who is in need, hungry, or who would just like to share a meal.
"We say we are doing Jesus' work," she said. "If he was here, he would cook and feed people."
In addition to feeding people, Hope's Kitchen looks for other ways to fill their needs. They collect travel-size shampoos and soaps to make goody bags, and also set out a table with brochures and information about other local resources. Last winter, the church's youth group collected coats, hats, gloves and socks to be passed out at Hope's Kitchen.
However, the ministry does not provide financial support, gas cards or food boxes, Rollins said.
People from all walks of life eat at Hope's Kitchen, and it's important to Rollins to treat everyone like an honored guest.
"My thinking is, if I was inviting my family to dinner, I would put a tablecloth on, I would have a centerpiece on, I would put on my best and that's what we do for them," Rollins said.
Over the years, Hope's Kitchen has grown to feed an average of 150 to 200 people at a time. It takes an enormous amount of food -- more than 30 pounds of chicken, and seven restaurant cans of green beans, not to mention other sides and desserts -- to feed that many people. It also takes about 20 volunteers about two days of work to prepare the meal.
Hope's Kitchen is health department certified, which means the ministry has to follow the same rules as restaurants, such as wearing hairnets and gloves in the kitchen and only using USDA inspected meats and dairy products.
Rollins said she sometimes worries whether there will be enough food or enough volunteers to help prepare the meal, but everything comes together every time, thanks to anonymous donations from individuals and local businesses they sometimes receive.
Chuck Coffelt said he started volunteering after joining the Catholic church in September 2016. He enjoys seeing people, especially kids, get fed and the sense of community that has developed between people of different backgrounds.
Coffelt noted that fellowship and sharing a meal with others is a basic human need.
"I think what we're trying to do is live out our Catholic faith in this community," he said. "We try to let people experience the joy of the gospel by having fellowship and eating and being fed physically, but I think people get fed spiritually here too because we don't turn anybody away, we encourage everybody. We try to make this as much a home environment as we can, we bring out the best that we have."
Recently, Hope's Kitchen has seen an increase in high school - and college-age students who are looking to earn volunteer hours and get a taste of community service, Rollins said.
Brooke Pigeon, a John Brown University student, said she started volunteering at Hope's Kitchen to earn service hours for a Cherokee Nation scholarship but she has continued because she enjoys making a difference.
"I like helping people in need," she said. "When you are here, you really see the need because there are some people we see that we know for sure are homeless. It's just nice they can have a regular place to come and get a meal."
For more information about Hope's Kitchen or to donate, call 524-8642.General News on 07/01/2018
Print Headline: Kitchen offers hot meals served with hope