Community kitchen reopens inside dining hall to feed the hungry

By ERIN CLEAVENGER, The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — What’s behind that distinctive red door of Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Morgantown?

The answer is Community Kitchen Inc., sometimes simply referred to as “The Kitchen”, which provides lunches five days a week to community members in need of a hot meal.

“Even though we’ve been here for 38 years, not everyone in the community knows who we are or where we are,” said Board Chair and volunteer Cheryl Prichard. “A lot of people just refer to this as ‘the red door’.”

When COVID hit, The Kitchen closed its indoor dining room and limited its service to daily takeout for the past two years – serving meals from the red door on the parking lot side of the church.

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“We provided hot meals – a starter, salad, fruit and drinks and all those things,” Prichard said, “but they had to take them away and eat elsewhere.”

Starting last week, the non-denominational non-profit organization reopened the dining room for customers to come and enjoy their meals inside for the first time in years.

“A lot of people are hungry and it’s our mission to feed them and we want to feed them in a community setting as much as possible,” Prichard said. “We really tried to decide when to open and we decided to make it kind of a party and open it on Halloween.”

The Halloween meal had a fun holiday twist, with meatballs that looked like eyeballs.

Prichard said he served 96 meals in the first day to serve people inside.

She said those who came in for a hot meal loved the Halloween-inspired menu as they waited in line.

“People laughed and really thought it was kind of fun,” she said. Most people who came thought it was “nice to be able to sit down and talk with friends,” she said.

Kitchen manager Jennifer Powell said that before reopening for indoor service, they were serving about 130 takeout meals a day and expected to see about the same number of people when returning to the restaurant.

Powell also mentioned a grant-funded program that helps them provide an extra protein-rich item with every meal, like yogurt, eggs or string cheese.

“For some of these people, it’s the only meal they’ll have all day, so it’s nice to have that extra bit of protein they can take with them,” Prichard added.

Hot lunches are served Monday through Friday and weekend bags will be distributed on Friday with enough groceries for one breakfast and one lunch.

Prichard said a lot of people believe The Kitchen only feeds the homeless – and that’s just not true.

” Everyone is welcome. We have people who have jobs but don’t make enough money to last the month,” she said. “We have students, we have disabled elderly people, we have families who come in and need to bring food home for the children – no one is turned away. We don’t ask any questions related to eligibility, we don’t ask them anything at all. If you show up at the door and want to eat, we feed you.

With grocery prices rising, Prichard said a number of people who come to The Kitchen “have little or no income and not a lot of extra money – so having a meal five days a week is something that you don’t have to provide for your children.”

The Kitchen operates with just three part-time staff, including Powell, and the rest of the work is done by volunteers with funding from various grants and donations.

Powell said the type of meals served daily will depend on the donations they’ve received and what’s available in cupboards and freezers. The food comes from a variety of sources, including donations from area grocery stores, farms and restaurants.

Board secretary and volunteer Aurie Acciavatti said the soup they serve daily is actually from Olive Garden. The Kitchen works with many other restaurants and organizations in the area to receive donations and redistribute food and other items to where they are needed.

“We know some of the people who come to our door are rough sleepers, many don’t have homes – some do, some don’t – so we provide Mylar blankets, socks and gloves in the winter” , said Prichard.

In the future, the organization wants to limit the number of take-out meals and serve all meals at home.

Prichard said that doesn’t mean they won’t send meals to someone with a disability or an elderly person who can’t make it to their home.

“We’d like to do as little takeout as possible, but the mission is to feed people, so we’re doing what we have to do to feed them,” Powell said. “We don’t want to see anyone go hungry.”

The three women said they would try to meet people where they are and do what they can to meet their needs – even something like a loaf of bread and peanut butter when they get together. debate at the end of the month.

“We do what we can,” Powell said, “but unfortunately we’re not set up to be like a pantry.”

“It is our belief and our guiding principle to treat people with dignity and respect,” Prichard said. “They come here for lunch and we treat them the same way we would treat the governor if he showed up.”

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