Volunteers from many area churches established the Community Kitchen (CK) in 1981. I have notebooks dating back to 1984 indicating The Park Church’s involvement – and I think we were involved from the beginning. The number of meals served each month during the early years was about 70 to 80 and the cost of supplies was $30 to $45. Meals were served at St. Peter and Paul’s Church in the old school building. Originally we made the dinners at Park Church, but at some point, the Health Department mandated that they be prepared in the school kitchen. That seems so long ago! I was involved from the beginning as were many Park Church folks who are no longer with us. About 2004, the school was torn down and St. Peter and Paul built a new community/parish center on that site. They invited the CK to continue to serve meals using the kitchen and dining room – a part of the new facility. Member faith communities and organizations of the CK assumed the responsibility for raising the funds necessary to equip this new commercial kitchen. Total anticipated costs were $50,000 – and they spent it all. The Park Church donated $5,000 -- $2,000 came from an Easter offering and $3,000 from our Endowment Fund. The new Elmira Community Kitchen opened in January 2005. Meals were prepared and served at Trinity Episcopal Church while the new building was under construction.
All continued smoothly until our recent pandemic. The number of dinners served sometimes was as high as 130, but mostly ranged from 80 to 100. Expenses for the meals, often close to $100, increased with time, but we were able to use food from the Community Kitchen stores. Traditionally, volunteers from The Park Church served dinner on the second Monday of each month. The Community Kitchen also serves holiday meals on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. We provide cider for Thanksgiving and eggnog for the Christmas dinner – both of these are such enjoyable times to participate.
For many years, our Park Church youth prepared soup and bread annually for the congregation that was served on Souper Bowl Sunday. The proceeds were donated to the Community Kitchen and usually the children went to the CK to present the check and to sing a few songs - a meaningful time for all. I hope we can continue this tradition after Covid. On March 9, 2020, we served our last evening meal due to Covid restrictions. During the pandemic, the Community Kitchen began serving Bag Lunches to Go. Over that summer, we prepared one hundred bag lunches in the church kitchen weekly that were delivered to the Community Kitchen for distribution. That October, Catholic Charities furloughed our volunteers and prepared To Go lunches with their own staff. We did purchase and package apple pies slices for the To Go bags that were sent out the day before Thanksgiving and sheet cakes portions for Christmas. Bill Knapp, Jenny Monroe and others shopped for and prepared bag lunches weekly in our church kitchen from April 29 until July 29, 2020. Charlie Lovell, an EFA student and Park Churcher, came every week but two to label bags and stuff, helping him get a Scouting merit badge! These were distributed to homeless clients who were being accommodated in area hotels. A request for financial help went out to the congregation and $2719.56 was collected. A BIG THANK YOU to all!
Since March 21, 2021, our Park Church team prepares bag lunches at the CK on the second Monday of each month, which are distributed at the door. 150 to 170 bag lunches are prepared and distributed this way every week- day. I want to thank Peg Kutcukian for being in charge when I am in the Adirondacks, and thank all the others who help her.
The Park Church Missions ministry is not contributing as much money for the bag lunch supplies as we did for the dinners. The CK receives funding from the City of Elmira - redistributed federal funds. Kathy Dubel, CK Director, tells me these funds will be available through the end of this year – and hopefully beyond. We use many items from the CK when doing our bag lunches. Kathy also tells me the City has been very generous to the CK and is grateful for its service to our needy city residents. The Food Bank of the Southern Tier also works with the CK to provide supplies.
I am so glad that our church has been involved with the Community Kitchen since it opened in 1981. Wow - 40 years! It has been a meaningful platform of our Church Mission efforts – meaningful for our volunteers and appreciated in the community.
I am sure it will continue with the strong support of its leadership -- Catholic Charities and the faith communities and organizations who support it. And THANK YOU to all at The Park Church who support the Community Kitchen with your time and donations. It will be so good to get back to second Monday dinners when the pandemic allows and for the com- panionship they provide to our guests.