PARKERSBURG - The Friendship Kitchen at the North Parkersburg Baptist Church Tuesday celebrated its 10th anniversary.
The kitchen, housed in a former bus garage on Emerson Avenue, started May 7, 2002, providing a hot meal and warm smiles to dozens of people that first Tuesday, said Susie Meredith with the outreach ministries of North Parkersburg Baptist Church.
"We started out with one room," Meredith said. "At that time, we had around 60 people which filled that room and that just filled our soul. After that, most days we had people outside waiting. We knew we had to do something."
Photo by Brett Dunlap
Jack Lemon, Rhonda (no last name given) and Debbie Madison prepare meals at the Friendship Kitchen on Emerson Avenue.
The kitchen grew from 60 on the first day to more than 100 two days a week during the first year of operation.
In addition to meals, organizers also took the opportunity to teach skills enabling them to look for work. They have also given flu shots and held talks on nutrition.
"We could feed them, but we wanted to do more," Meredith said. "We have tried to teach them life skills on how to take care of themselves."
The kitchen got a $5,000 grant from Missions of West Virginia to survey what people needed and one of the main things needed was personal hygiene, a reason they couldn't get a job.
"Many of them needed soap and needed shampoo and clothing," Meredith said which led to another idea where people could be given certain items at a giveaway, held on Thursdays.
"In that people can get clothes and shoes," she said. "They can have proper clothing to go look for a job."
The kitchen went from two days a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, to three days a week on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
"We have been doing three days a week for 4-5 years now," Meredith said. "We average around 150 people a day."
In 10 years, the Friendship Kitchen has served more than 200,000 meals.
"We have seen a lot of people," Meredith said. "Right from the door, I want our guests to have a friendly handshake right when they come in.
"I want them to know that everyone is welcome, no matter what walk of life they come from. A person who sleeps under the bridge is welcome. A banker is welcome."
The kitchen operates on donations to buy food, pay the cook and utilities.
Meredith hopes those helped by the Friendship Kitchen help others, too.
"We have had people come up to us and say they got my start with the Friendship Kitchen," Meredith said.
Many were able to find work or were inspired to go back to school and get their GED, she said.
"That is what we want more than anything," she said. "If I have learned one thing out of this, it is we are the happiest when we serve others, more so than anything else we do."
The kitchen opens at 9:30 a.m. when people can come in for a cup of coffee, read the newspaper and socialize.
"Not all people who are down on their luck," Meredith said. "We have people who are retired and need conversation with others."
Dorothy Mills of Parkersburg likes coming to the Friendship kitchen with her sister and others. Mills was among retirees who volunteered to clean the kitchen's flowerbeds and plant flowers.
"We like it here because everyone is treated fair," Mills said. "There is no bullying. They do a good job at treating everyone right."
The meal is served around 11:15 a.m. and they close around 12:45 p.m.
"We can always use volunteers," Meredith said. "Anyone can volunteer at the Friendship Kitchen."
June Allman of Parkersburg has volunteered at the kitchen for 10 years after Meredith asked her one day after church.
"I have been here ever since," she said. "I just love it. I am just devoted to it and I just love the people. It is the Lord's work serving others."
Since school was out on election day, six students from Jackson Middle School's Joy Club volunteered at the kitchen Tuesday.
"I felt like I would be helping out those in the community and doing a nice thing," said 7th grader Zoe Dalton. "It felt like something I should do. I think this is amazing that they started 10 years ago and it is still going to this day."