Grace's Kitchen

St. Paul’s in Roosevelt Breakfast Program – “Grace’s Kitchen”

By Catherine Kohn

If it’s Tuesday or Thursday at St. Paul’s in Roosevelt, it’s time for breakfast at Grace’s Kitchen in the small building next to the modest church. Tables are set with plastic pastel tablecloths, a sparkly centerpiece makes it look like a party is about to begin. Fruit, cereal, milk, juice, coffee and more are spread across two long tables. A small group of volunteers greet each person who enters with a big smile and friendly, “good morning” and proceed to chat with their clients and take their order for a nice hot breakfast.

And who are these clients? They are young and old, men and women, they are of different races and cultures, some are working and others are looking for work, some are disabled. They are the individuals of a very diverse community – one that is struggling in a difficult economy.

People are chatting at their tables. Some enter with a friend, others alone. They tend to come in waves throughout the morning, generally from 8 a.m. to 11.

The program has served more than 4,000 meals to people in the community so far. “And it’s only two days a week, I can only imagine if this were every day,” said the Rev. Kassinda Ellis said. She is proud of the group of women who are the foundation of Grace’s Kitchen: Grace Stevenson (coordinator of the program), Madge Wilson, Lil Russell-Jones, Juliet Hinds and Ione White.

“When we were looking for the grant (from Episcopal Ministries) we were calling this the Breakfast Program and we said to ourselves, ‘We have to call it something, it has to have a name.” Rev. Ellis said she was looking at receipts from April, May and June and “I asked for all of the receipts for the food from that time and I knew how much the church had given to us and what the actual cost of the bill was and I asked these ladies ‘how have you been feeding these people?’” Of course, the answer was they were feeding people out of their own resources.

“It is only by the Grace of God that this could even have happened,” she said. “St. Paul’s is a church that is struggling in a lot of ways. I couldn’t fathom… I thought of the story of the feeding of the 5,000 (loaves and fishes). So that is where the name comes from. It just so happens that Grace’s name is Grace – but it is really about God’s grace and how he is moving us as a community, as a church. We don’t know where the road is going to take us…”

Grace’s Kitchen is about more than a good breakfast, however. Many of their patrons ask questions such as where to look for work or how to apply to agencies for help. Rev. Ellis explained that they want the program to be “both a breakfast program and a referral program. We want to eventually connect with social service agencies to help us help our clients.”

Grace Stevenson said she has had people ask her for clothes, especially for work, interviews or for a special event with their children. They help them obtain what they need. “These are working people living paycheck to paycheck.”

The grant Grace’s Kitchen received “is going 100 percent toward purchasing food. Originally it was these five ladies who were paying out-of-pocket to feed all of these people,” said Rev. Ellis. She added they are applying for other grants and sources of income in order to improve their kitchen facility. Those improvements will allow them to become certified by the New York Board of Health Grace’s Kitchen and officially become a “food pantry. “That would allow us access to things like Long Island Harvest and Long Island Cares.”

Rev. Ellis explained, “Some people think this is only homeless people, most of the people who come through our doors are working people who just aren’t making enough money to feed themselves. They tell us that we are the only breakfast program that they know of in the area. Many would have to wait until the evening in the hopes of getting a meal at one of the other programs.”

Help is always welcome at Grace’s Kitchen. “Anyone can come and help or partner with us and spread the word that this is a place where a person can get a good, hot meal – and not just a meal, but conversation, meet with people, and let people know what is going on around the community,” she added.

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