Feeding the Masses

By Jennifer Chandler / Photography By Justin Fox Burks | April 30, 2016
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Feeding the Masses

At Hope Presbyterian Church, food is a big deal. And when I say big, I mean BIG!

Feeding a gathering of 1,000 or more people happens weekly at this Cordova-based church. Some weeks, it happens more than once. And the truly amazing part … the prepping, cooking, serving, and cleaning are primarily done by volunteers!

When asked about the food service at Hope, Jennifer Young, "Kitchenista" of the Hope Kitchen Ministry happily states, “There is always something going on for us to cook for. Just last Friday night, we had Tim Tebow’s Night to Shine. Wow! What a night! Between the special guests and the volunteers, we fed more than 1,200 people.”

Night to Shine is an unforgettable prom-night experience for people with special needs, ages 16 and older. Events like this are a common happening at Hope. Jennifer couldn’t stop talking about the smiles of these special guests. Jennifer and her team received just as much joy from giving these folks the royal treatment as they did receiving it.

Which brings me back to the name of the kitchen at Hope: Kitchen Ministry.

The Kitchen Ministry is more than just about cooking food. Its main purpose is to feed Hope’s members and guests at the myriad of events and functions, but the Kitchen Ministry also serves a bigger purpose. “It’s all about families eating together,” says Jennifer. From the weekly Wednesday Night Suppers to the Soup Sales to the Dinner on Demand meal prep service to the frozen-food section of the Hope Gift Shoppe, the goal is to make eating dinner together easy.

During Wednesdays at Hope, Jennifer and her Kitchen Ministry team of staff and volunteers feed more than 1,000 people a “home-cooked” meal to enjoy with their family and friends.

The night I attended in February, the menu was baked chicken with corn casserole, butter beans, tossed salad, cornbread and yeast rolls, and banana pudding cake. What a meal — healthy, filling, and delicious.

About noon, the cooking starts. In all, it takes about 45 VOLUNTEERS to pull off one of these dinners.

First in the kitchen is the salad maker. This volunteer comes in and chops 60 POUNDS of lettuce and then whisks together FIVE GALLONS of homemade salad dressing. She then sets all of it on carts to be sent out to the buffet line just before service. While salads are being made, another volunteer starts brewing the tea. Gallons and gallons of it. On average, they make about 60 GALLONS of sweet tea and about 20 GALLONS of lemonade. No one goes thirsty on a Wednesday night at Hope.

During the early afternoon, the “Kid Lady” comes in to prep the Kid’s Menu, which includes a choice of peanut butter and jelly sandwich, peanut butter–only sandwich, or jelly-only sandwich. Even the pickiest of little ones can find something to eat here! 18 JUMBO LOAVES of bread are used for peanut butter sandwiches every Wednesday at this very popular buffet station.

Mid-afternoon, the serious cooking begins. “All my volunteers own their shift,” says Jennifer. “I do not have to assign duties every week. They come in and know what to do. I also know they will be here every week unless they tell me otherwise.”

Steve Pashby has been cooking at Wednesday Night Suppers for the past 3 YEARS. A deacon at the church and now retired from his career, Steve volunteers every week because “God has been good to me. It’s time to give back.”

Along with Steve, volunteer Randy Flake has also been a regular Wednesday cook for the past 3 YEARS. “Steve and I do the bulk of the heavy work,” he explains. “It’s about the camaraderie. It’s fun to work with this team and prepare food for this many people.”

Monique Wiles is also part of the cooking team. Now a part-time Kitchen Ministry staff member, she started as a volunteer. “My kids participate in the Youth Ministry here. It’s a great way to get to know the church leaders and staff. Plus…it’s fun.”

All say they are home cooks with no real professional experience. But to see them in action, you would think otherwise. An hour before serving 1,000 meals, this team is calm, joking with each other, and having a great time — with no stress showing. It’s like a kitchen dream team.

For tonight, the team has prepped and baked about 600 bone-in chicken breasts, 200 chicken legs, and 107 leg quarters. That’s a lot of chicken.

They also made 28 FULL STEAM-TABLE PANS of corn casserole and cooked 150 POUNDS of butter beans.

The kitchen at Hope is a large, well-planned commercial kitchen. Three double ovens, two 30-quart mixers, one 15-quart mixer, one large steamer, two large steam kettles, two tilt skillets, and one of the largest Robot Coupe food processors that I have ever seen. There are six burners on top of the range, but Jennifer points out, “We don’t ever use them because we never cook anything that small.”

Jennifer is also proud that there is no fryer in her kitchen. “Other places doing this volume are re-heating only or frying. Everything we make is from scratch.”

Maria Garces is the dessert maker on the crew. For tonight, she made the yummy banana pudding cake … or, more accurately, 14 HUGE SHEET-PAN CAKES. A part-time staff member for the past five years, Maria started out as a volunteer looking for a new opportunity. “To be honest, the best part of working in this kitchen is the friendships we have made.”

Barb Suchomel also started out as a volunteer before joining the part-time crew. “My kids were part of the youth program, so I wanted to be involved with the church.” Tonight, she is prepping the dinner rolls. That would be 810 YEAST ROLLS and 400 CORNBREAD MUFFINS. “I do whatever is needed, but my favorite thing to make is the roasted corn dip in that big mixer,” she says, as she points to the row of 30-quart mixers. (Yes! 30 QUARTS of corn dip. Wonder how many tortilla chips that needs?)

Examples of dedication and leading by example abound in this well-tuned machine of a kitchen. Monique’s dad, Pat Patterson, has been the volunteer dishwasher for 15 YEARS. “Nobody wants this job, so I just do it,” he says. Jennifer whispers to me, “He is the sweetest man ever. This is the worst job in the kitchen, and he volunteers to do it every week.” No wonder Monique is dedicated to this kitchen ministry. She has had an exemplary role model.

Once the food is ready, it is then delivered to the buffet area where it is served with love by another team of volunteers.

Elena Mize has been in charge of tossing the salad for 15 YEARS. She tosses every bowl of salad to order so it is fresh, crunchy, and there is no waste. Attired in her custom-made towel apron (a removable hand towel buttons to the front of the apron — seriously genius), she jokes that her salad table is the “psychology corner.” “Friends just hang out here with me as I toss the salads,” she says. But you can tell she truly enjoys being part of this volunteer team. Bob Cook has manned the tea and lemonade station for about 18 YEARS. “Back when we started these dinners, there would be 20 of us in attendance and two pitchers of tea. Now it takes five of us just to manage the station.” For 11 YEARS, Rita Gallagher has been in charge of the dessert table. “I absolutely love it. It’s the best job in the world … desserts are everyone’s favorite.”

In addition to the desserts on Rita’s table, there is also the wildly popular ice cream station, where volunteers serve up to seven or eight 3-gallon containers on a Wednesday night…with, of course, all the toppings.

All this hard work and good food also has a BIG impact. Proceeds from the sales benefit several ministries at Hope, including their global missions programs and their urban mission work right here in Memphis. Hope’s Kitchen Ministry also assists Target House and Ronald McDonald House in Downtown Memphis with meals every month (see story on page 33). And when natural disaster strikes, the Kitchen Ministry steps up to the plate. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the kitchen served more than 8,000 hot meals to evacuees from the Gulf Coast. When the historic Memphis flooding of 2011 occurred, Hope Kitchen Ministry fed more than 40 families three meals a day for 30 days straight.

But all this cooking boils down to one thing. The BIG force behind all this food and volunteerism is love and family. From Jennifer Young to every volunteer to every guest at the table, the overwhelming sense was that the reason each and every person was there was fellowship and love. Jennifer and her team have accomplished their goal of bringing family to the table.

Visit:

Hope Presbyterian Church
8500 Walnut Grove Road
901-755-7721

DINNER ON DEMAND

Once a quarter, the Kitchen Ministry hosts meal assembly sessions. The Kitchen Ministry staff and volunteers do all the chopping and prep work, and the customers assemble the ingredients they need to make the recipes at home.

Over a two-day period, Dinner on Demand has 12 sessions. Each session has about 200 ATTENDEES, each assembling six to eight MEALS to feed four to six people. That’s about 9,600 MEALS. “Imagine the groceries!” says Shelley Baltz, Dinner on Demand coordinator.

And…here is the BIG number! So far, Dinner on Demand has raised $1.3 million that has been donated to mission work both locally and internationally.

HOPE GIFT SHOPPE

To make serving dinner simple at home all the time, the Kitchen Ministry stocks a freezer of prepared meals at the Hope Gift Shoppe.

At all times, customers can choose from 4 to 5 ENTREES, 12 SOUPS, about 10 DIPS, and scones and rolls. The most popular item is the lasagna. “We make about 150 PANS every two weeks,” says Jennifer Young. Another hot seller is Rotel chicken. “This recipe came from my mom,” chimes in Shelley, “We make about 60 GALLONS every three weeks.”

“And don’t forget the pimento cheese in the refrigerator by the register,” adds Jennifer. “We can’t keep that in stock.”

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