“It has been the shortest and the longest five years of my life,” said Sandra Wright, Executive Director and the only full-time employee at Loveland Community Kitchen. Faith Farkas, who works part-time at the Kitchen, serves as administrative coordinator. Formerly employed in the business of health care technology, Wright switched careers when she felt the need to have a direct effect on the lives of people she saw were in need. She’s never been sorry.
Loveland Community Kitchen was founded in 1996 when several Loveland churches came together to address the need to alleviate hunger in the community. When Wright joined one of those churches, she became involved with Loveland Community Kitchen as a volunteer before taking on the executive director job five years ago.
Until COVID-19, The Kitchen offered 17 meals a week and was open all seven days, serving breakfast and lunch every day and dinner on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, the most convenient time for people who were employed to come. It took 350 volunteers to keep The Kitchen going. They did everything from prepping and serving food to cleaning up after meals and making trips to the food bank and grocery stores to pick up donations. Until recently, The Kitchen served meals in the dining room of the facility they share with Meals on Wheels at Fourth and Garfield Streets in Loveland.
During the last several weeks, The Kitchen has switched to offering a single take-out meal each day. Recipients are also given food bags that include enough for three or four other meals. These are especially busy days as many of the volunteers are no longer available.
Wright says that her business experience has been valuable in her recent career where she has been called upon to organize and interact with clients, suppliers, and donors as she works to address hunger issues in the community. Her work satisfies the need she felt to make a direct difference in people’s lives. At the same time, she has learned a great deal from those she serves. “The Kitchen’s clients are some of the most gracious and resilient people I have ever met,” she says. There are no qualifications for people to make use of the Community Kitchen. They never turn anyone away.
The Kitchen is a place where clients get much more than food. The dining area provides a space for socializing and enjoying a sense of community, although that is not possible right now because of the COVID-19 crisis. In the past, several “regulars” using the program could be counted on three or four times a week to enjoy a hot meal and some fellowship. The Kitchen has also become a place where clients can get connected with other community resources committed to meeting a variety of needs.
Recent restrictions have not slowed the level of activity at The Kitchen. In April 2019, they served 1600 hot meals. In April 2020, they provided 2400 take away meals, one per person. In addition, clients are given food bags to tide them over until the next take away meal.
Original funding for The Kitchen came from the Loveland churches who founded the program. Over time, as the program has grown, funding comes from several sources such as grants, fundraisers, and donations from members of the Loveland community. Annual fundraising events for The Kitchen include a breakfast every fall, a hike, and a jewelry sale.
The COVID-19 crisis has made for drastic changes in the Loveland Community Kitchen program but Wright and her band of loyal volunteers are making it possible for their clients to stay well-fed regardless of changes that have been necessary. What is missing these days are the personal contacts that were so important. Hopefully, those encounters will be possible again soon, although no doubt with some accommodations.