With the holidays approaching and the weather getting colder, there is place in South Rome that welcomes all for a warm meal, hot shower and place to wash clothes. It’s known as the Community Kitchen, located at 4 Calhoun Avenue.
The kitchen got its start over a decade ago, when five downtown churches took turns feeding the community. “But that’s a lot to keep up with if you’re a person in need, and you’re trying to figure out where to eat,” said Lisa Stuenkel, a current board member of the kitchen who helped combine and centralize the ministry’s operation. “A few of us began brainstorming. We wanted our clients to have a central location where they could feel like it was their place. So [when we found] the current location, we had an anonymous donor who sponsored the lease for the whole year. And that got us started as the Rome/Floyd County Community Soup Kitchen,” she explained.
That will be 10 years ago this January, something current Executive Director Drew Taylor does not take lightly. “We’re so blessed with our community’s support. We haven’t had to do a food bank order in over two years. We’ve been open for 10 years. We haven’t had to charge a penny for any service we’ve provided.”
Taylor originally got involved at the kitchen 11 years ago. “Years ago, I was in a bad car accident, and to make a long story short, I ended up becoming addicted to pain medicine. So through getting healed of that and becoming a saved Christian, I got directed to the Community Kitchen; because I had a little misdemeanor community service I had to do. I worked my tail off, and I just knew that God wanted me there for a reason. And at the time, I didn’t know what it was. But later Lisa approached me and asked if I wanted to run the kitchen. And the rest is history; I’ve been there ever since,” he said.
Melanie Baker, another board member and volunteer, who has been Stuenkel’s partner from the beginning, spoke highly of Taylor’s involvement and leadership at the ministry. “Drew just works so tirelessly to get everything done, and yet he’s so good about being relational with all the people,” she said.
Baker is also one of the initiators of the shower and laundry ministry that is provided on location in addition to meals. It began a few years ago when she read an article about Whirlpool Appliances giving washers and dryers to schools in order to approve attendance, since students were skipping school if they did not have clean clothes. When she realized that they had already put two showers in their building and had the capability of adding washers and dryers, she jumped at the opportunity.
“Body wash and laundry detergent are donated, so we don’t have that expense. And we do about 400 showers and 400 loads of laundry a month,” she explained. She continued: “Anytime you build a ministry from a place of need, it just seems to work better. People need to eat, bathe and wash their clothes.”
Baker also said these basic needs are what informs their plan for the ministry going forward: “We don’t have a five year plan. People need to eat today, and people need to eat tomorrow. So we’re going to keep doing that and see what comes about.”
Right now though, the kitchen’s greatest need is for donations that will be used for water, electricity, and insurance; since both of the kitchen’s two buildings are paid off and the utilities are the biggest expense. Besides monetary donations, the kitchen is also in need of people to donate their time, as there are only two paid employees.
One of the regular volunteers, retired schoolteacher Cindy Stinson, said she first got involved through her church, First Presbyterian of Rome. “They needed workers, and I had time available one week. It’s just addicting. I just had to come every week and help, as much as I could! I’m going on three years, and it’s literally true: you get more out of it than what you put into it. It’s very uplifting and fulfilling. And before you know it, the morning is gone!” She said.
She encouraged people on the fence about helping out to “just think about what you might want to do and just come do it! From folding towels and aprons, to washing dishes, to wiping counters, to serving, to making food; there’s probably something for everybody.”
Stuenkel said that while expanding food service to Saturday and Sunday or growing the shower and laundry ministry in the future would be ideal, they are taking one day at a time. For now, the focus always has been and always will be the people they serve.
She explained that the people come from all walks of life. “If you come through the door, you are welcome,” she said. “Our clients come for many different reasons; maybe they’re coming because they’re an older person and they’re lonely, maybe they have a special need and they’re not able to to cook for themselves. Not all of our clients are homeless. We have a myriad of people who walk through our doors and everyone is welcome.”
The Community Kitchen is a 501(c)(3) organization, opened Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.
(Please note the kitchen will be closed Thanksgiving Day and lunch will instead be served at the Rome Civic Center.)
Donations can be dropped off at 4 Calhoun Avenue and monetary donations can be sent to 3 Central Plaza Suite 384, Rome, GA 30161
For more information, visit them online at www.romefloydcommunitykitchen.org/