Salvation Army serves three meals per day, 365 days a year to help nourish the needy
By Carmen Galvan
Assistant City Editor
It’s just before 5:30 p.m. As volunteers prepare food for serving, a line of men, women and children form outside the door. The people in the line outside are carrying handbags and backpacks, or they are hiding empty hands in their pockets.
While each person comes for different reasons because of different backgrounds, they are all joined together in a daily community dinner provided by the Salvation Army Community Kitchen in downtown Waco.
The Salvation Army Community Kitchen is one of many community-feeding sites that prepare and provide donated food for people with difficult financial situations, but it is one of the only Waco area community kitchens open 365 days a year.
The community kitchen, which was renovated and opened last December as a state of the art commercial kitchen, provides three meals a day to those in need.
Roy Birdwell, assistant manager for the Salvation Army Community Kitchen and Red Shield Men’s Lodge, said meals are prepared from donated food from around the community, including local area restaurants such as Red Lobster and Olive Garden.
Meals are also provided from the Baylor community through food conservation programs such as Campus Kitchens, a program that rescues food from local cafeterias and restaurants to provide for those in poverty.
“We work with Campus Kitchens there at Baylor, so they bring in a lot of the recovered food,” Heather Helton, public relations and media director for the Salvation Army in Waco, said. “Then we have staff who make sure the food is at the right temperature, and they are able to save that food and serve it for dinner that night as well.”
The majority of food the kitchen serves is donated, although the organization does purchase certain items through their grant funding.
“A bunch of food is from Baylor campus, the kitchens program, which brings in recovered food,” Helton said. “Sometimes the food is donated, and there are some items we purchase, but a lot of it is run off of donations. Some food we do purchase, like lunch is sometimes a sandwich or soup, depending if it’s cold out, and dinner ranges anywhere from chicken and mashed potatoes to green beans. But whatever we get in that day is what can be for dinner.”
Helton said the mission of Salvation Army is to serve and minister, as demonstrated through the kitchen and volunteers.
“This is one of our biggest programs,” Helton said. “It’s a feeding, it’s for whomsoever needs a meal. If you’re hungry, we’re not going to let you go away hungry. They come eat, and we have volunteers, but we could always use more. People really like being over there because they get to interact with our clients.”
Birdwell said the best part of working at the kitchen and lodge is the feeling of peace from helping others.
“I’ve been on the street, I know what homelessness is about, so I like helping people; it’s right up my alley,” Birdwell said. “I feel gratification, happiness, it’s a peaceful feeling that’s hard to describe. The look on their face when you know their name and help them out makes it worth it.”
McKinney junior Katie Walsh said she occasionally volunteers at the community kitchen.
“Sometimes there are a lot of volunteers and you don’t feel like you’ve made a difference, but when there’s not many volunteers you think ‘I’m really glad I came today,’” Walsh said.
While the kitchen is open every day for lunch at 11:30 a.m. and dinner at 5:30 p.m., Helton and Birdwell said the number of diners varies depending on the season, with numbers tending to increase towards the end of the month when money begins to run thin.
“It really does depend on time of the month and day of the week,” Helton said. “Levels that we see are chronic homeless people, or they may just stay in the shelter a few nights, get a nice meal and then go on their way. Some coming in have families and can’t get enough money together for a dinner like this. There’s not just one type coming anymore; now it is a broad range.”
Regardless of background or financial state, every person who goes to the kitchen for help can be guaranteed a warm welcome from people trying to please.
“I’m a people pleaser; I like to make people happy,” Birdwell said. “Some say that’s good, some say bad, but I see it as a plus. I see this kitchen as a place to be, a place to find peace.”