The Fredericton Community Kitchens opened their doors in the basement of the former Pentecostal Church—at the corner of Argyle and Westmoreland streets—on Dec. 8, 1982. On that day, four meals were served.
Today, The Fredericton Community Kitchens serve 14,000 free meals each month. The non-governmental organization works to tackle the problem of hunger in Fredericton through the downtown in-house meal service, Northside Outreach and Student Hunger Programs—among others.
On any weekday, the Kitchens’ in-house service, now located at 65 Brunswick Street, opens its doors at 7:45 a.m. and provides breakfast, lunch and dinner to over 100 people daily. As you walk in the room, there are two large gray tables followed by a food counter that invites “guests” to form in line.
Therese M. Murray, Fredericton Community Kitchens’ executive director and her team refer to anyone that comes to have a meal as a “guest,” as they are welcome to come any or every day and feel comfortable in using the Kitchen’s services. She said that everyone that participates in the Kitchens—staff or volunteer—is required to sign a confidentiality agreement out of respect for the guests.
“What and who you see here, remains here,” she said. “Honestly, the only thing that people have in common when they walk through our doors is that they are hungry. So, what does the face of hunger look like? Think of anyone who is hungry.”
Following that frame of mind, the Kitchens count how many meals are served instead of the number of persons that come in. They do not keep a tally of how many meals each person eats, since they should feel free to have as many meals as they need.
When Murray took over the Executive Director position two years ago, she printed a quote she liked on a sheet of paper and put it up on a wall in her office. It reads: “Be thankful for what you have. Your life, no matter how hard you think it is, is someone else’s fairytale.”
“There’s something interesting about life. The more you pay attention to a social condition [like hunger], you can’t help but feel grateful for your own social condition,” she said.
Murray has spent the last 20 years working with nonprofit organizations that deal with social justice issues. She said the progress made has been possible thanks to the food and financial donations, sponsors, community support, the committed volunteers and staff team.
This year the Kitchens have seven paid staff members and over 300 volunteers.
For Lola Crawford, age wasn’t enough to slow her down. At 99 years old, she volunteered at the Fredericton Community Kitchens every Tuesday next to a close group of friends. She saw the Kitchens transform over the years from serving one meal a day at noon and having no cook, no full-time coordinator and no automatic dishwasher, to incorporating delivery vans that reach the the north side of the city and the creation of partnerships with 18 schools in the Fredericton area to provide nutritious meals for kids everyday.
Crawford passed away in her 100th year of life and is greatly missed by everyone in the Kitchens.
“Even in her last senior years, [Lola] would modify what her volunteer capacity would be, so she’d be sitting on a stool and counting the meals,” Therese said. “Every volunteer is precious, just like every donation of food is precious.”
Adrian Davis has been volunteering at the Fredericton Community Kitchens for a year. He dedicates eight to 20 hours a week—mainly driving a van to deliver meals at many destinations around the city.
“Driving now, I get to see different parts of Fredericton and [it’s amazing to learn] how all the different organizations support each other,” he said.
For Tony Fitzgerald, the first week of November will mark his 6th year volunteering at the Kitchens. He retired from working at the IT department in UNB on Oct. 31, 2011 and came to work in the Kitchens the following Wednesday.
He has not missed a Wednesday shift since, where he washes dishes and is “a pair of hands of a semi-intelligent autonomous system, so I do whatever they tell me,” he said.
Third-year UNB nursing students Taylor Chitty and Jessica Pinter experienced their first day at the Kitchens on Wednesday. They said they had no clue the Kitchens even existed—but now that they have plastic gloves and hair nets on, they consider volunteering there a really good experience.
“Balancing between full-time school and volunteering is definitely doable. We’re busy all the time, but even today we have the time to do it,” Chitty said.
As the staff and volunteers get ready to open the kitchen for lunch at 11:30 a.m., organized chaos unfolds. The staff and volunteers stand behind their stations to serve the meal of the day: spaghetti and meatballs with a side of salad and cinnamon rolls as dessert. Therese M. Murray prepares to open the doors, while chef Louis Cosman gives last minute directions to serve the food they have been preparing for the last couple hours.
“I’ve spent my entire career on the private sector, working at hotels and restaurants, and it’s just really rewarding to be in a place like this where I can give back [to the community] now,” Cosman said.
Cosman said he spent 35 years chasing someone else’s dollar and now he’s helping people. He said the work can sometimes be frustrating, but when he sits down at the end of the day and puts the positives and negatives together, there are far more positives than there are negatives. “Especially when you watch [the guests] come in here and they smile, and they go back out and they smile. We did our job. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life—and I’ve been doing a lot,” he said.
According to the 2016 Food Security and Insecurity in New Brunswick Report, four out of the ten organizations that provide meal services could not meet the needs of their population—they estimated that on average they met about half the demand.
The Fredericton Community Kitchens will be making a detailed announcement regarding the expansion of the Student Hunger Program by the end of October. They hope this will allow them to meet the demand for meals in the greater Fredericton Area.
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