(Laurel coalwell -2nd Tuesday) (Barbara Hazelwood -1st Thursday)
When do you volunteer and how long has this been going on?
One group comes in on the first Thursday of every month while another group serves on the second Tuesday and we have been cooking at the Friendship house since 2003.
What got you involved?
Barbara “Me and my husband started in 2011 back when the café was still located in the house. At that time, I was only helping to make the chicken casseroles and was told what the food was for by a member named Patti who had been assisting in this service since 2003, I liked the idea and decided to help serve.” What a place to be sheltering so many men and women and cooking for the public on top of everything, “this new cafe is like heaven. We helped for probably a year but then the people that were in charge kind of dropped it, one girl couldn’t work in those close quarters because of allergies and other problems.
“We started a second time in 2013, that’s when Laurel and Paul joined us doing it the 1st Thursday of each month but the problem was still that the kitchen had space for no more than a couple of people. The tables that they had set up could only hold 12 people at a time, 6 and 6. That was all we could do then but now we can feed up to 35 people at a time”
Laurel “I got involved when Barbara asked me to help and I thought it would be a neat thing to do. But the people that come to the door are what it’s about.”
What is your favorite part?
“It’s always that fuzzy feeling that keeps us coming back. even when at the end of the day we are tired, and our feet hurt, you still have that fuzzy feeling that you did something good and that’s what keeps us doing it. just knowing how much we are helping makes it all worth it and that’s what counts.
what changes have you seen?
The construction of the café has been a monumental change for the good. Some of Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church’s members like Kevin Kok helped supply materials to build this café in 2013 and in December it was opened.
Some members began starting other volunteer groups to help out, like Garry jones who started cooking with Kiwanis Club of Mount Vernon at the Cafe. Even in Oak harbor and other cities, members began taking the café’s structure and operation tactics into other organizations to supply people in need with a smile and a warm meal. For example, Ryan’s house in Oak harbor has begun a shelter for teens in which they implement a similar meal program.
“In the beginning, we were serving a lot of corn, but many people were turning it down. We began to realize that the reason was that corn is hard to digest. we did not know the health status of these people, so we switched to green beans in attempts to feed them without bothering their health. We are trying to make them happy, not sick.”
Our church began by making chicken noodle casseroles in 2011. laurel had been making them way before she even started serving. Members of our church made them at the church and then brought them here. At that time the café was serving maybe 4000 people a month. We had to have 5 casseroles cooked and did it for so long that I think people got tired of making them. it was soon just two cooks and at this point and they were thinking about not doing it anymore. Some members decided to switch off every other month so that they wouldn’t get overwhelmed, but the cramped space of the old kitchen began to take its toll on some of the members. And so, we stopped for a little while and started up again in 2013.
At that time the café was under construction and we did not stay in the house cooking for very long. It was two teams of two then but taking turns every other month. we were so relieved when we were able to start using the café. we kept talking about how much we liked it and as people heard about it more and more people began stepping up to help. Eventually Mount Vernon Presbyterian was able to gather so many volunteers that they had to split days and so they served twice a month through two different groups of 5-6. Barbara’s team normally tackled the first Thursday while Laurel’s covered the second Tuesday. And cooking a meal for 50 to 115 people is still a lot of work, even with two teams because they work from scratch, collecting, coordinating and cooking the meals.
How do you supply and sustain this?
Coordinating the food can sometimes be a challenge, although the church supplies the funds through a predetermined budget, two people, Laurel and Barbara are mainly in charge of the buying and procuring of items.
The original main dish was Chicken casserole but “It’s a lot of work trying to cook for that many people and it gets more challenging when you consider that each day can vary from 60 to up to 100 people. I think the most we’ve had is 115 because we serve hamburgers and that day we brought 118 hamburgers and by the end of the day there were 3 left.” In this past month of July 2018, the café served over 6700 people.
“The main dish for Tuesday is now hamburgers, baked beans, potato salad, and cookies. and the main dish for Thursday has been spaghetti, cold slaw, cookies, green beans but for this summer we are trying to change things up and make pulled pork sandwiches.”