Abigail Corona, 2, finishes off a meal during a twice-monthly community dinner at the Presbyterian Church in Phoenix Thursday night. - Jamie Lusch

'It really brings the community together'

PHOENIX — At first glimpse, it appeared as if City Hall had moved to the First Presbyterian Church on Second Street Thursday night.

The order of business, however, wasn't budget cuts or zoning issues but enchiladas, ice cream sandwiches and two hours of robust conversation and laughing children as part of a new program called the Phoenix Community Kitchen.

Mayor Carlos DeBritto helped serve dinner to the nearly 100 community members who showed up for the twice monthly community meal, then sat among residents to enjoy his own plate.

City Council members Mike Stitt and Mike McKey worked "as bus boys," providing condiments and utensils and directing diners toward the meal line.

City Attorney Kurt Knudsen washed dishes, while City Manager Jane Turner doled out ice cream sandwiches to children who kept their word in finishing their dinner.

"This is just great," Turner said. "It really brings the community together. We need stuff like this."

Open to anyone in the Rogue Valley — low-income or otherwise — the dinners grew out of a request by community members, city officials and chamber members, said Mike Foster, pastor of First Presbyterian Church. It was launched at the end of January and is funded by donations and a grant.

"It came about by a conversation at a chamber meeting about what the community could do for the increasing number of folks who are finding themselves unable to make ends meet or who are maybe having dinner alone too often," Foster said.

He said the community has responded well, both in enjoying the meals and in helping make them happen.

Some four dozen volunteers help set up, serve and clean the dining area.

"Last time we served, we hit a high of 78 plates, and I think we had more than that tonight," Foster said Thursday.

A partnership with Interfaith Care Community yielded a grant for 600 pounds of hamburger to keep the gig going, and Debby's Café, new to Phoenix, donated a freezer.

Foster said numerous businesses have donated to the cause.

Phoenix residents Scott and Brenda Geiger came Thursday with their 3-year-old, Bailee, who sipped on lemonade and inspected a bowl of crayons. The Geigers have attended several times.

"The food is very good, very filling," Brenda Geiger said. "And it's a good thing to do to get the people together in the community."

Carlos and Jocksana Corona, with 2-year-old Abigail and 4-year-old Nathan, visited with friends they've made at the dinners over the past couple of months.

"We love it," Jocksana Corona said. "We think it's really nice. It's our fourth time coming and every time we come there seems to be more people.

"Besides the food being really good, everybody here is so nice."

Corona said the program's approach made it feel more like a community get-together than a reminder of hard times for most of its families.

"It's really nice it's not called a soup kitchen or whatever," she said. "It's a community meal.

"I know a lot of people who need to come eat but would be put off by something being called a soup kitchen."

Medford residents Corkey and Leslie Moore, parents of one of the volunteers, shared a meal on Thursday.

"I grew up in Wyoming and our Presbyterian church did a once-a-month potluck," Leslie Moore said.

"To me, this feels like home."

From his post in the busy kitchen, Knudsen compared his Phoenix Community Kitchen gig to his first job, at a Taco Bell.

He said the community meal concept seemed a welcome addition to the small town.

"It just feels good and it's a great community," Knudsen said. "And I see familiar faces both helping out and having a meal."

Community members interested in helping can call the church at 541-535-1119 or e-mail Foster at Foster said donations of cash would be most helpful. Donations of dried and canned goods would be put to use in the church's food pantry, available throughout the week and on community meal nights.

Future meals are planned at the church, 121 Second St., on the second and fourth Thursdays of every month.

Share This Story