Charlene Dart, co-director of the Community Kitchen with Steve Stidham, reported at the board's first meeting of 2011 that the new outreach program had served 1,473 individual meals since starting on Nov. 2, 2010. The kitchen has served an average of 70 people per meal. The largest meal, served just before Christmas, attracted 101 diners.
During an evening meal Christmas week, 47 families received food baskets. A volunteer dressed up like Santa Claus and gave gifts to 41 children.
According to Brenda Davis, public relations spokesperson for the Community Kitchen, the program, based at the First United Methodist Church, started out in one classroom. When participation increased, a second classroom was added. Toward the end of December, the service had grown so big that it was moved into the Family Life Center.
"All of the coats, hats and mittens donated have been distributed and well received," Davis said.
"Thank you to the community for all of those who have donated food and labor," Dart said. "We anticipate the program will continue to grow.
"When you are here and see a child cry because they are still hungry or an adult tells you that they do not eat on the days we do not serve because they have no food, it touches your heart," Dart said. "The biggest question I am asked by those who come is 'Why are you doing this?' The answer I give them is, 'because we care.' The Community Kitchen has been able to touch many lives."
Around 100 volunteers have offered to help the Community Kitchen and not all of the volunteers have been called yet, according to Davis.
"We still need you," Dart said.
One of the changes in recent weeks has been made in offering transportation to the meals. Davis said no one has used the pick-up location at the Monett Senior Citizens Center, and it has been dropped. J&T Econo Motel on West Highway 60 has been added in its place. Transportation is also still provided from Crosslines at Sixth and Cleveland.
No specific stops are offered out of town, though an individual has brought people from nearby communities in for meals, Davis said.
"We do accept financial donations and offers of food, clothing and labor. We greatly appreciate them," Davis said.
Interested volunteers can contact Marie Medlin, the new volunteer coordinator, at 235-8283. For more information about the program, contact Dart at 235-2364 or Davis at 235-8190.
The Community Kitchen serves meals on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 tos 6:30 p.m. and on Saturdays from noon to 1 p.m.
"We are fulfilling God's command when he tells us to 'love our neighbor,'" Dart said. "We are excited about the future and are looking at options on where we go from here."