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More people using North Parkersburg Baptist Church’s Friendship Kitchen

Participants kept 6 feet apart while in line at the Friendship Kitchen, a ministry of the North Parkersburg Baptist Church. The kitchen has seen more usage since the precautions against the spread of COVID-19, Susie Meredith of the Friendship Kitchen said. (Photo by Jess Mancini)

PARKERSBURG — A local ministry has seen an increase in the number of people taking advantage of its meals program since the pandemic arrived, an organizer said.

“Oh my gosh yes,” said Susie Meredith of the Friendship Kitchen, a ministry of the North Parkersburg Baptist Church.

Many of the people taking advantage of the ministry are newcomers to the kitchen, she said. In the last three weeks, more than 1,300 hot meals have been served, she said.

“There are many, many people we have never seen before,” Meredith said. “They are not our regulars.”

The Friendship Kitchen on Emerson Avenue across from the church will celebrate its 18th anniversary in May.

Curtis Cochran holds the meals he received Thursday from the Friendship Kitchen. (Photo by Jess Mancini)

Operating three days a week, it is open from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Everything is free.

The meals have been a godsend for Curtis Cochran of Parkersburg, who has been laid off and out of work about a year. He doesn’t take advantage of the meals every day, but it’s good to know they’re available if needed, according to Cochran.

“Sometimes I don’t know where one meal is going to come from the next,” Cochran said, speaking through a mask.

Ann Horton of REM West Virginia in Williamstown brings clients to the kitchen, many of whom have been secluded since the virus precautions were put in place. The organization is a provider for youth and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and other challenges.

Matt Styer poses with Precious, which quietly sits as he volunteers at the Friendship Kitchen. (Photo by Jess Mancini)

She said she’s been coming to the kitchen for eight years.

“I’ve seen a lot of new faces, probably in the last six months,” Horton said.

Among volunteers is Matt Styer, a resident of Parkersburg since 1990, who brings his dog, Precious. Precious quietly sits between two posts while Styer helps serve meals.

“I just love the heartbeat that this place puts out,” he said.

He was a bouncer in local bars and recognizes many of the people who go to the kitchen.

A box of food and snacks distributed Thursday at the Friendship Kitchen. The boxes are from Wood County Schools. (Photo by Jess Mancini)

“I got to know a few people,” Styer said.

But he has turned himself around and perhaps others can look to him as an inspiration. “Give them a little bit of hope,” Styer said.

With the restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the contagion, the Friendship Kitchen is serving meals in the parking lot, Meredith said. The dining hall is not open, she said.

The aim is to serve people fast enough that the line does not extend toward the street, Meredith said.

While in line, people are practicing social distancing, staying 6 feet apart, and other precautions to prevent any possible spread, Meredith said.

While much of the food can be prepared in the kitchen of the Friendship Kitchen, the ministry also receives donations from local restaurants and businesses to help feed the people, she said.

The donations include milk and bread, Meredith said.

Thursday’s menu included pizza and salad. Boxes of food from Wood County Schools also were distributed.

Jess Mancini can be reached at jmancini@newsandsentinel.com.

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