CANTON — With help from a smattering of local organizations, the past two months have seen a flurry of activity at 358 Champion Drive, where The Community Kitchen looks to move from across town, expanding its services to community members in need.

For more than a decade, the kitchen has operated out of a 1,100 square-foot building on Pisgah Drive, in southern Canton. The nonprofit’s new location north of town is 7,000 square-feet, allowing for plenty more space in which to operate, once renovations are finally completed, said director Allison Jennings.

The soup kitchen has been in existence since 2006 and purchased a new building three years ago. Remodeling has been ongoing, but progress has been slow.

“This year we got back to it — on again, off again — when we have time, and when we have the money,” Jennings said. “It takes a lot of time renovating a building of this size with volunteer labor.”

Thanks to free labor and donated funds, the new Community Kitchen building has come together at a gradual pace. With still more work to do, Jennings said she was finally able to set a move-in date for the first week of December.

“The past two months, it’s been full go,” Jennings said. “It’s been a long, hard venture in getting over here.”

A community effort

The Community Kitchen is regularly supported by donations from 12 to 15 Haywood County churches, Jennings said. The nonprofit receives food to serve its neighbors from several local and federal programs.

“I call them neighbors, not clients,” Jennings said. “That’s just what I prefer.”

Together with more than 20 churches and other faith-based service organizations, the kitchen is a part of the Canton Missional Network, which aims to unite the religious community in its common goal of helping others, Jennings said.

Beyond Canton, an agency partnership has formed between The Community Kitchen, The Open Door Ministries, Haywood Pathways Center and Haywood Christian Ministry Inc., Jennings said. The partnership holds semi-regular meetings to gauge how the groups can work together to better support each other, and the larger community.

“We come together, and we have meetings on what we can do together, fundraise together, so the community knows that we’re in this together,” Jennings said. “We’re doing it together, and serving the same people.”

To keep its shelves stocked, The Community Kitchen picks up excess food from Wal-Mart and Food Lion, adding to the food it buys from MANNA FoodBank in Asheville, and collects contributions from the federal TEFAP program, as well as the annual Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive and other fundraising efforts, Jennings said.

The new building cost $90,000, and around $80,000 has been spent on renovations so far, Jennings said. Sinks and other hardware was donated by Lowe’s Home Improvement, and a $25,000 contribution from the Cruso Endowment spurred this most recent flurry of activity.

Renovations

The past two months have seen 50 or more volunteers giving their time and effort to fix up the new Community Kitchen building. Two major work days have helped speed up progres, but some contribute on a daily basis, Jennings said.

“In those two major work days, we were able to get the building painted, a bathroom completed, electrical done, some shelving put up in the pantry, we’ve put flooring down, and then some,” Jennings said.

On a workday Oct. 29, volunteers arrived from various churches, the Pathways Center, and even the Haywood County Schools maintenance department.

“We got held up back in September due to a sewage flood,” Jennings said. “It kind of put us at a standstill.”

The workday prior, volunteers wrote Bible verses on unpainted drywall throughout the building, which will remain even after the scripture is painted over, providing a touch of extra protection, Jennings said.

“Lots of contributors,” Jennings said. “If it wasn’t for our volunteers and the community, we couldn’t do what we do.”

Serving a need

At its current building, The Community Kitchen serves an average of 45 people per night, five nights a week, without much room for more, Jennings said. About 200 food boxes are distributed twice a month.

In the new location, the kitchen has enough space to serve hot meals to as many as 80 people per night, with room leftover to expand services to the community.

“Right now all we do is feed meals and do food box distribution,” Jennings said. “We are hoping that we can get computer classes started, basic life skills and help with job applications, because a lot of our people can’t read, and they don’t understand technology — it’s rough.”

In addition to the larger dining, kitchen and pantry areas, the new building has a classroom space, showers and a laundry room for neighbors to use, Jennings said. A closet space will provide donated clothing to visitors, and a produce section will allow them access to fruits and vegetables donated by local grocery stores.

In the back of the building, a private meeting room with backdoor entrance will enable the kitchen to start hosting Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and a board room means the organization will no longer have to host its leadership meetings off-site, Jennings said.

Chairman of The Community Kitchen Board is Chris Jennings, who said people will be able to use Haywood Public Transit to reach the kitchen, increasing the number of people served on a nightly basis, and likely adding to the 53 percent who come for help from outside Canton.

“The need doesn’t seem to be going up or coming down,” Chris Jennings said. “I think we serve about one-third that are homeless, one-third that for whatever reason need us, and we probably serve a third that are just elderly, that don’t have enough money to make ends meet.”

Both the Jennings said a family environment will persist at The Community Kitchen, and they will strive to keep it that way.

“When we get moved over here, we will see new faces, because even though we’re just across town, it’s a whole new neighborhood of people we really don’t know,” Allison Jennings said.

Moving forward

Those who use the kitchen need not worry about a lapse in service during the move.

“We will not be closed during this process,” Allison Jennings said. “If we have to serve sandwiches out of the parking lot, that’s what we’ll do.”

Despite the move-in being set for early December, there are still funds and hands needed to finish up renovations at The Community Kitchen’s new site — and to keep the nonprofit running.

“We will still be short funds on getting some things done, so we are still taking donations,” Allison Jennings said. “We are in need of monthly financial donations to keep things going. It costs us about $4,000 to $4,500 a month to run — we do need lots of community support and volunteers.”

Those interested in volunteering can call or text Jennings at 593-9319, and donations can be mailed to PO Box 513 in Canton, she said. To contact The Community Kitchen via email, send correspondence to thecommunitykitchen@gmail.com.

“It’s been three years, and the patience of the community has been great,” Allison Jennings said. “I know they’ve been discouraged thinking we were never going to move, so this is very exciting to us, to be able to actually move. I hope the community gets excited with us.”

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