By MICHELLE BEAHM
Kitsap News Group
PORT ORCHARD — Almost 30 years ago, First Lutheran Community Church’s first Family Kitchen night had 17 volunteers serving a well-rounded meal to 17 people.
Now, they have anywhere between 40 and 80 people show up on any given family meal night.
“We started with serving one week and three churches, and now we’ve increased to two weeks, eight days and nine churches,” said Bea DeBoer, one of the organizers of the South Kitsap Family Kitchen.
South Kitsap Family Kitchen is a community project run by nine Port Orchard churches. They serve meals at 5 p.m. the last two Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays of each month, all year long, to low-income people, seniors and people who are homeless.
“The reasoning for that is, it’s the end of the month when people don’t have enough money and they have to stretch it for so many different things,” DeBoer said. “The meals are always different. We meet for a cook’s meeting once a month and plan our meals, so they don’t get eight spaghetti dinners. We try to have enough variety so they don’t get tired of what we’re doing.”
This all started in 1988 when a member of the First Lutheran Community Church pointed out the strong need in South Kitsap for a meal program.
“She went back to Scripture,” DeBoer said. “Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.’ She said, ‘I think that’s what we need to do.’ ”
So First Lutheran planned Family Kitchen, then approached other local churches about participating. Now, 29 years later, nine churches are involved. Each church is responsible for one of the eight meals each month, but they’re always served at First Lutheran.
“They need to show up here (for the meals),” DeBoer said. “If they have somebody that’s homebound, we can also give food for them to take home for the home-bound, (but) we can’t do like Meals on Wheels. We don’t have the facilities for that.
“But the homeless can get here fairly well. We’re really in a good location. Next door to us, we have Kitsap Mental Health, and across the street now is St. Vincent De Paul, and a bus stop is right here. They manage to get here OK.”
DeBoer said the meals are available for everyone, no questions asked, especially seniors who may not qualify for financial help, but need the socialization.
“We have two or three tables of seniors. They come for socialization and for a full, well-balanced meal they don’t have to cook,” DeBoer said. “It’s hard to cook for one.”
Every meal includes a main course, vegetable, salad, breads, dessert, juice, coffee and milk. DeBoer said they always plan to cook for 80-100 people, ensuring there are leftovers people can take home.
The program is free and funded through donations and grants. DeBoer said each participating church donates $50 a month to fill the pantry with staples like flour, sugar, noodles, spices and other things used regularly. Then, whichever church is preparing the meal will donate food specifically for it. First Lutheran is the host partially due to its commercial kitchen, which DeBoer said they have, thanks to grants and donations from Boeing, Saints Car Club and others.
If interested in making a financial donation or volunteering to help out, call First Lutheran Community Church at 360-876-3901.
The churches in Family Kitchen are First Lutheran Community Church, Elim Lutheran Church, St. Gabriel Catholic Church, St. Bede’s Episcopal Church, Port Orchard United Methodist Church, Colby United Methodist Church, Adventure of Faith Presbyterian Church and the Unitarian Church.
Family Kitchen also works with the South Kitsap Helpline — which sends out its schedule in each basket of food — The Coffee Oasis and the local schools.
“We’re here and open to (everyone), no questions asked,” DeBoer said.
“They don’t have to sit through a religious program. We’re here to feed them and help in other ways we can.”
To learn more about the South Kitsap Family Kitchen, contact First Lutheran Community Church at 360-876-3901.