Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
People begin to gather in the parking lot outside the Community Kitchen on East Bland Street shortly before 11 a.m. Some of the arrivals come in vehicles, but many others have made their way on foot either from the bus stop, the nearby homeless shelter or from areas throughout Roswell to get a meal at no charge.
This scene plays out Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. at the Community Kitchen. Once inside, people line up and are served a tray of food.
“They needed volunteers to help and I figured I could do it since I worked cafeteria before,” said Peggy Samuels, a retired cafeteria worker at Goddard High and one of the volunteers serving people.
“Most of them who come in are very nice, you just enjoy seeing them,” said Doneese Grantham, another server.
Each day, a different church provides volunteers to serve the food. People are served regardless of where they are from or their circumstances.
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“We don’t ask any questions or ask for an ID, just anybody who is hungry, they can come in and eat,” said Brad Ussery, the kitchen director.
Ussery, a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 17 years and has a background in the restaurant industry, said his love of cooking and his own trails have inspired him to help others.
“Kind of the one thing I learned getting sober is the only way to keep what God has given me is to give it away to others,” he said.
Some of the people the kitchen serves include the homeless who live under nearby bridges, the unemployed, families and individuals who have trouble making ends meet financially, those with mental health issues, and some are men whose wives have died who have never learned to cook, according to Ussery.
Ussery said in addition to providing food, in the past, officials with the health department have come to give people flu shots and La Familia Dental contributed by signing people up for dental care.
Bill Cooper — chair of the board of directors made up of multiple churches and businesses that support the kitchen — said many people, including on Roswell’s east side have come to depend on the Community Kitchen.
“We have families in this neighborhood that have nothing to eat. We have kids in the summertime, this is the only meal they get a day because school is out,” Cooper said.
“They are just good folks. They are those in need and those who are hungry,” he added.
Cooper said he has had people tell him that by serving the hungry, he is only enabling them.
“I would have said that once in my life, too, but I don’t see anyone I am enabling — I am seeing people that we are helping,” Cooper said.
The Community Kitchen, a nonprofit, was started in 1983 in the cafeteria of St. Peter’s Church.
In its nearly 35-year existence, the Community Kitchen has served 1.2 million meals. Monday thru Friday they serve on average about 140 meals a day and on Saturdays and Sundays about 50 sack lunches, Cooper said.
Food is donated from local businesses such as Albertson’s and Sam’s Club or purchased at a discount rate through the Roadrunner Food Bank in Albuquerque, which delivers food to the Community Kitchen every two weeks, Ussery said.
The Community Kitchen has also benefited from in-kind donations. Cooper said there have been times when a hunter has killed an elk, processed the meat and donated that processed meat to the Community Kitchen. Farmers have also donated produce.
In November 2016, the board of directors, made up of churches and businesses that support the Community Kitchen, bought the current building with a combination of funds it received from a local benefactor and other donations. Then they gutted it, did some rewiring and repurposed it, adding a commercial kitchen.
In June, the Community Kitchen opened its current location on Bland Street.
Cooper said in all, about $250,000 was spent buying and upgrading the 3,500 square-foot building, which had previously been a Mexican imports store.
The new quarters is a big improvement over the space they operated out of at St. Peters.
In St. Peters, the kitchen equipment often broke down and there were often fights and arguments between the patrons. People would make a mess in the restrooms with some people taking baths in them, Ussery said. He added that he would have to call the police at least once a week.
In the new quarters, many of those problems have vanished, with some of the people who are served cleaning up trash up off the floor.
“They have pride in this building because they know it’s theirs and they don’t want to see it go away,” Cooper said.
The salaries of the Community Kitchen’s three employees along with the cost of utilities is about $7,000 or $8,000 a month and is paid for with donations from individuals and churches.
There are people who Ussery said he remembers, the Korean War veteran who comes in, the cheery woman who refers to everyone as “friend” or the men who used to come in but now who he sees working for the city or at restaurants.
Word about the Community Kitchen or what is on the menu on a given day gets out. Cooper said after a recent open house the Community Kitchen had, several bags of shrimp were left over and the next day the Community Kitchen decided to serve the leftovers to people who came for a meal.
“Well, the word travels pretty fast on the street and they were lined up at the door until we closed,” he said.
Ussery said he hopes in the future more can be done to let people know what the Community Kitchen does — he said partnering with other organizations or maybe hosting a spaghetti dinner twice a month.
He said ever since the Community Kitchen held its open house Nov. 12, he has heard a lot more interest from potential donors and other members of the community.
People can drop off donations Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Donations can also be mailed to P.O. Box 3010, Roswell, NM 88202-3010. For more information about the Community Kitchen, visit roswellcommunitykitchen.org.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.