Local restaurants, students chip in with Salvation Army community kitchen

By Junna Miyazaki | Reporter

Diana Barrett, public relations director and volunteer coordinator for The Salvation Army in Waco, said the organization’s community kitchen is a place where any person can receive free meals — 365 days a year, including holidays. The kitchen serves breakfast and dinner every day, and it serves lunch on Mondays and Tuesdays since a local cafe serves on other days.

“We also provide snacks and refreshments, in addition to meals, during times of extreme weather or crisis, such as during winter storms or heat waves,” Barrett said. “We continued serving throughout the entire pandemic, even switching to take-out when needed to ensure the safety of all.”

The food the kitchen serves comes from a variety of sources but is mostly purchased directly from food vendors, thanks to donations and grants. Cargill donates meat to the kitchen, while the Shipley’s Do-Nuts establishments in Woodway and Robinson donate their leftover doughnuts.

“The community kitchen has a tremendous impact on this community by helping address hunger,” Barrett said. “Those coming to our kitchen can be a mix of those who are homeless or those who have housing but are simply unable to afford meals.”

Panera Bread, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Uncle Dan’s BBQ, Longhorn Steakhouse and the VA Medical Center also donate leftover food to the kitchen. Additionally, Baylor’s Bearathon and Kappa Omega Tau (KOT) donated cases of water.

Barrett said that while at the kitchen, attendees can learn about their other services, including showers, shelters, clothing vouchers, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and long-term rehousing programs that help people move from homeless to home.

“For some people, coming to our kitchen is the first time they will seek help,” Barrett said. “It may be the first place they go, before ever knowing about other services we offer. A meal from us may be the only meal they have had that day — or many days.”

During the school year, volunteers from various Baylor organizations help serve meals. Each group reserves a different day and serves week after week. These Baylor groups include Alpha Epsilon Delta (AED), Alpha Phi Omega (APO), Future Nurses Association (FNA), Multi-Cultural Association of Pre-Health Students (MAPS) and Red Cross. Baylor’s Medical Student Organization (MSO) serves twice a week: Friday dinner and Sunday breakfast.

“It may be appealing to students because of the flexibility of being able to serve any day of the week,” Barrett said. “This coordinates well with class schedules, as most volunteering is during the evening or weekend nights or mornings. We are also located near campus. Each group has a date reserved only for them, which helps students know they can always volunteer. Serving meals gives students an opportunity to do something as simple and yet meaningful as feeding a neighbor.”

Barrett said that with so many groups volunteering from a health background, students are bearing witness to the relationship between the physical and spiritual person.

“The experience that students can expect when volunteering is one of gratification and hospitality,” San Antonio senior Kalton Tran said. “At the community kitchen, students will work in various tasks around the shelter. Primarily, volunteers will serve food to those who need it. Men, women and children come through the kitchen, and a great sense of fulfillment comes when we get to serve these individuals and families.”

Tran said he has always enjoyed volunteering at the kitchen and went as often as he could.

“When the position for leadership presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity,” Tran said. “I always aim to encourage the individuals in my organization to step out and serve in the community so that they get to know the people outside their bubble.”