In this age of Facebook and meals eaten on the run, people are losing the ability to slow down and converse face to face. Many don’t have a chance to connect with and learn from those living in vastly different financial circumstances. Although not everyone knows it, Western Theological Seminary provides an opportunity for a cross-community meal every day of the week.

Nearly 28 years ago, WTS and Community Action House (CAH) came together to launch the Community Kitchen. WTS invites the community to use our facilities, and CAH provides staffing, food, and volunteers to provide meals seven days a week nearly every day of the year.

Lunch:  Monday-Friday from 11-12:30
Breakfast:  Saturday & Sunday from 9-10:30am
Cost: FREE

Sometimes people who know about the Community Kitchen wonder who it’s intended for. It’s for the neighbor down the street in between jobs. Or the mom living in a hotel with her kids who doesn’t have a stove but can tell her family, “We’re having pancakes for breakfast this weekend!” It’s for the college student with no time to eat if he doesn’t swing in. It’s for seminary staff and students who want to listen to the wisdom around the table as guests talk about their experiences.

The ALICE population in Ottawa County is growing (ALICE is a United Way term meaning Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed). With the affordable housing crisis in Holland, the rising cost of living, medical costs, transportation, groceries, and the challenge of finding daycare, a full time job (or two) may not be enough to cover basic needs.

The Community Kitchen is a constant support for anyone seeking a healthy meal and welcoming community. When people come with regularity, they have the joy of entering into each other’s lives and really getting to know each other. Guests share their past experiences, their challenges, and what brings hope. What a privilege to encourage and to be encouraged.

The CK team consists of Community Kitchen Coordinator Felicia Thompson who runs the kitchen, preparing around 150 meals a day, and Melissa Roessing who supervises Community Action House’s Food Security programs (which includes the food pantry and Community Kitchen). But volunteers are the heart of what makes the kitchen function. They’re preparing fresh salads, cutting up fruit, serving food, washing dishes, cleaning tables, and greeting those who enter by name. That is some of the beauty that happens on a daily basis.

People come regularly because this is more than a meal. It’s a chance to see friends, to meet new people, and to experience community.

If you already come to the Kitchen, we’ll see you soon! But if you haven’t yet, consider this your formal invitation:  come and join us at the Community Kitchen to nourish your body and your soul. Also—we are always in need of more helping hands if you’re interested in volunteering to keep this community institution serving!

Want to know more or learn how to get involved? Contact Melissa Roessing. Learn more about Community Action House’s other work serving our most vulnerable neighbors here.

–post contributed by Melissa Roessing

The Community Kitchen is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. For the past 25 years, local volunteers, donors, and staff of Western Theological Seminary (WTS) & Community Action House (CAH) have worked side-by-side to provide the Community Kitchen, a place for local people to receive free meals in a safe and welcoming environment year-round.

The Community Kitchen is housed at the seminary and serves over 75,000 meals per year, providing about 1,000 volunteer hours. Over the past quarter century, CAH estimates that over 750,000 meals have been served, and over 130,000 hours 150923-114125of volunteer service provided.

The Kitchen was founded in the early 1990’s when severe cuts to funding for government needs-based assistance created a hunger problem for many Holland families. A seminary class called “Gospel, Culture, and Ministry,” in which the Holland Sentinel was a class text, inspired students and professors to connect with CAH staff and local city churches to help solve the problem. Today, the Community Kitchen continues to operate through those original partnerships.

According to Dr. Tom Boogaart, one of the founders of the Kitchen and professor at WTS, the Community Kitchen has turned out to be better and far more important than anyone imagined. “It created the geography for organizations to connect, serve, and form a real community,” he shared.

community-kitchen“We’re extremely grateful to be part of this community work,” said Mark Tucker, Executive Director of Community Action House, “with over 25 churches involved for 25 years, all working seamlessly together to provide for those in need.” Hundreds of volunteers from local churches make each day happen—from food prep, donation delivery, to dishwashing and greeting.

Earl Laman, one of the Kitchen’s longest serving volunteers, joined efforts at the Kitchen just after its founding in September 1991 and remains active, representing Hope Church. Many churches donate food along with their time, taking special offerings during the year to help shore up the Kitchen’s non-perishable food stores, which help provide complete nutrition when donations slow down.150923-114207

Challenges at the Kitchen include limited freezer and refrigerator space, and meeting the need of an ever-growing number of patrons. “We’re serving 150-250 meals every day – space is always tight,” said Jim Piersma, Kitchen Manager.

WTS is currently taking donations for a $15 million capital campaign to perform building renovations that will include an updated Community Kitchen. The Seminary remains committed to the Kitchen and hopes the renovations will allow it to serve more people than ever before.

“Our school and our students have been transformed over the past quarter of a century by hosting the Community Kitchen,” WTS President Timothy Brown said.  “I am extremely grateful that we get to participate in this vital mission.”

150923-120144To celebrate service and accomplishment of the past 25 years, Community Action House will feature a presentation about the Community Kitchen during its annual Appreciation Banquet, held at Windmill Island on September 29th.

“This place has been a huge blessing to me and my family over the years,” said one patron. “We are so grateful for the warm welcome from Community Action House and the Seminary.

The public, as always, is invited to enjoy a meal in community for lunch during the week and breakfast on weekends at 101 E 13th St.

To make a financial donation in support of the Community Kitchen, volunteer, or provide supplies, please contact Community Action House, 345 W 14th St., Holland, MI, (616) 392 2368.