Community Kitchen Assistant Rachel Nolan holds hot meals boxed and ready to go home with those who come daily to the soup kitchen.
“I have a little guy who comes in every day. And we play together every day,” says Community Kitchen Assistant Rachel Nolan. “He’s 3 years old. He always runs right up to me when he gets here and gives me a big hug.”
In one day, everything changed.
On March 17, one day after Michigan schools shut down, Nolan pointed to an empty room in Western Theological Seminary that usually holds dozens of tables and 100 to 170 people every day.
“Of course, he tried to run up and give me a big hug yesterday, and I couldn’t hug him,” Nolan says. “I couldn’t play with him. And he doesn’t understand, so that’s pretty heartbreaking, honestly.”
The Community Kitchen
— a partnership between Community Action House and Western Theological Seminary — has been serving hot meals daily for 30 years. The coronavirus outbreak has forced the kitchen to switch to boxed meals, but it hasn’t shut down the operation that feeds hundreds of people 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 to 10:30 a.m. weekends on the seminary campus, 101 E. 13th St. in Holland.
To encourage social distancing, the dining room has been shut down and each family can send one representative to pick up all of their meals.
Robert Roth has volunteered as a dishwasher at the Community Kitchen every Monday and Friday for the past 18 months.
“That has now changed with the boxed lunches being handed out, so people don’t congregate,” Roth says.
CAH is mindful of those who are most vulnerable and may now be even more isolated without a good way to access food, Community Engagement Officer Meagan Maas says. Ideas include possible box delivery.
Now that there are no more dishes to wash, Roth hopes he will be able to volunteer as a delivery driver for the daily meals or another capacity needed.
“For me to be a part of the broader diverse community in Holland is really important,” says Roth, 65. “To be a part of a community that’s rich and poor and all the colors of the rainbow and all different backgrounds, I find to be very meaningful and fulfilling.”
A Community Kitchen worker hands a prepackaged meal to a visitor to the daily kitchen.
Roth remembers taking a daily break from washing the dishes to eat a meal, sitting next to someone who was homeless or had once been homeless or had recently been released from prison or who was a retired professional like himself. It’s that diversity that Roth cherishes about the Community Kitchen.
Though the retired Methodist minister is slightly concerned for his own health, he is more concerned for others who are already suffering from pre-existing medical conditions and might be more susceptible to COVID-19.
He says he will take the recommended precautions of social distancing, using hand sanitizer and wearing gloves, calling those types of precautions “critical.”
“I totally believe in this organization. I’ve seen how much good work they’re doing. Whether it’s food security or building a sense of community or meeting other human needs,” Roth says. “I would like to make a pitch to those people who for whatever reason cannot volunteer, I really hope people who are able will send a donation. The needs for food and other support are going to go up a lot.”
Need has increased dramatically, says CAH Executive Director Scott Rumpsa. On one day this week, CAH distributed enough groceries for more than 7,000 meals, he says.
Nolan, the assistant from Community Kitchen, is hopeful.
“What is encouraging,” she says, “is the community is really coming together. My hope for all of this is that it makes the world a better place. There has to be some good that comes from this. And I just have to believe and I do have faith that this is going to make the world a better place.”
This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.