By: Megan Roche
On East Blackwell Street in Dover, you’ll find a warm meal and a side of hope with a visit to Faith Kitchen. Located at 123 E. Blackwell Street (Trinity Lutheran Church), there is always a warm meal at lunchtime from 11:30-12:30 and positivity to be found for all in the community.
Faith Kitchen was started back in 1983. In 2005, it became its own 501c3 charity and still operates upstairs inside of Trinity Church. They serve a nice lunch 6 days a week to anyone in need, no questions asked. The line forms at their door by mid-to-late morning in anticipation of doors opening at 11:30 a.m. No matter what the weather is, people are out there waiting. Those who come are hungry, tired, cold and wet. The outside elements wear them down. Some standing on the line outside the door have waited tirelessly because this will be the only meal they’ll eat today.
Currently the kitchen is fully covered when it comes to groups or community organizations who want to serve meals, but the team can always use donations or benefit from fundraisers.
According to Executive Director of Faith Kitchen, Joanne Bleecker, “We have groups that come in each day to serve. They bring food, cook, serve and clean up. Since we do have a regular volunteering schedule of faith groups that serve here, we are blessed that we do not need to seek out individual volunteers for cooking and serving. What we need is volunteers to run paper drives for us. Any item collected helps to save us money and goes a long way in helping us feed those in need.”
After Faith Kitchen closes down for the day at 12:30 p.m., Edna’s Haven, a program of the Mental Health Association of Morris and Essex counties opens upstairs from 12:30-4:00 p.m. Edna’s Haven helps people get referrals for services. Once a month, the Zufall Mobile Medical Van also visits Faith Kitchen to help those on a limited income receive access to the medical care they need.
Bleecker, who has served as executive director for Faith Kitchen for 4 years, worked in corporate America in computer science. She has been a CIO and COO for midsize multi million-dollar companies. However, when she took over at Faith Kitchen, she discovered something close to her heart.
“The most rewarding part is making a big difference in someone’s day. It’s a joy and a blessing to get to know the people that come through our doors. Everyone has a life story. Listening to their stories, struggles and triumphs are critical in truly understanding their challenges. Empathy is always the first step toward developing a deeper, sincere desire to help. I am amazed every day by their resilient spirit.” Bleecker said.
While the kitchen is about community, that’s what also stemmed from the organizations need for a new logo. Wanting to get the community involved in its creation, they reached out to County College of Morris’ Art and Design department.
“We worked with Professor Yvonne Bandy, M.A., M.S., Associate Professor, Liberal Arts Division, Art & Design Dept. at CCM. We received 17 entries from her students and chose the design created by 21 year old student, Sebastian Torres. We asked for both a black and white entry as well as 2-color to be used for a future t-shirt fundraiser and other media uses. We felt it was a great opportunity to get local college-level art students involved in a charitable organization and they were able to design for a ‘client.’ We were so impressed with the creativity and the thought put into this project by these students.” Tammy Roselle, a Faith Kitchen board member said.
Working at a food kitchen may be taxing for some, but for Bleecker, this is one labor of love, one she personally understands.
“At this point in my career, I was drawn to the goodness and importance of nonprofit work. My parents are first generation Americans, and both knew what it was like to be hungry, so this cause is personally important to me. They taught me the true value of a meal, of a kind word and of extending a helping hand. I do my best to fulfill that purpose each day here.”
To learn more about Faith Kitchen, visit www.faithkitchendover.org.