BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Three decades ago, the Community Kitchen prepared its first meal, without fanfare or hoopla.
That inaugural offering - consisting of chicken with rice soup, crackers and cheese, apples, milk, coffee and iced tea - was cooked and served on March 6, 1983, at the Christian Center, now known as the Monroe County United Ministries building. It was eaten by 15 people.
That humble beginning has since mushroomed into a mighty food outreach program. In 2012, the first full year of the Community Kitchen of Monroe County's operation in its new home at 1515 S. Rogers St., the kitchen had an annual budget of almost $800,000, and served nearly a quarter-million meals and snacks, smashing its all-time annual record by 9 percent.
"Growth in our sector is always bittersweet," Vicki Pierce, the Community Kitchen's executive director, told The Herald-Times (http://bit.ly/12fdYkB ). "We always hope to work ourselves out of a job, so we don't like to see need increase. What we do appreciate is the community support that allows us to keep providing services to meet that need."
Pierce said in 2012, 61 percent of the kitchen's meals went to children and 9 percent went to seniors or chronically ill or homebound individuals.
"Those programs that are meeting the nutritional needs of children, seniors and the chronically ill are incredibly close to my heart," she said. "I am very proud of the Kitchen, its board and staff over the years for having the foresight to invest time and funds into outreach programs for our community's most vulnerable."
Since its inception, the Community Kitchen has added a slew of outreach programs, such as:
- Feed Our Future, a program launched in 1994 that has provided more than 500,000 meals and snacks to at-risk children in youth-serving programs.
- Summer Breakfast Program, which has provided 161,866 sack breakfasts to children in low-income neighborhoods during the summer since it began in 1997.
- Community Kitchen Express, which has provided 460,196 warm and reheatable carry-out meals to Crestmont and other area residents in need since it opened in 2001.
- Backpack Buddies Program, which has provided 16,081 backpacks filled with weekend food supplies to low-income children at local elementary schools to help them and their families since it began in 2005.
- Nutrition Links, which has provided 13,868 home-delivered reheatable meals to local HIV-positive clients of IU Health Bloomington Hospital's Positive Link program since it began in 2006.
- Martha's House delivery program. Since the Community Kitchen moved to its new site in July 2011, it has delivered 16,342 meals to Martha's House residents.
- Senior Links. Since its start in the summer of 2012, this program - a partnership with the Area 10 Agency on Aging - has delivered 1,452 reheatable meals to local seniors in their homes.
In July 2011, the Community Kitchen moved into a new 5,400-square-foot home at 1515 S. Rogers St.
The total cost of buying and renovating the new place was between $1.4 million and $1.5 million. More than $1 million of that amount was raised through the kitchen's capital campaign, and the total loan for the project was $700,000.
The kitchen was able to pay off the renovation part of the loan in December.
"The amount we need to pay down the mortgage is just under the original purchase price of the property, which was $325,000," Pierce said. "We now only have a 20-year mortgage, and our payments are about $2,200 a month. We certainly would like to pay it off much, much sooner, and will be forming a committee soon that will focus on strategies to do that."
The new kitchen has two Vulcan six-burner gas ranges, single and double convection ovens, commercial dish washing machine, food warmer, three reach-in coolers, a reach-in freezer, walk-in cooler and freezer, industrial food processor, mixer and slicer. Most of the equipment was transported from the old site at 917 S. Rogers St.
"We did not buy all new equipment for this building, because we are intentional about purchasing and maintaining quality equipment and already had most of what we needed," Pierce said.
She said the new 1,400-square-foot dining area, nearly twice as large as the former one and featuring three restrooms instead of just one, provides patrons with greater comfort and dignity.
"For patrons, it's all about dignity, and I think having personal space is the biggest contributing factor in that," she said. "People are no longer forced to sit elbow-to-elbow and back-to-back. There is also the 20-seat family dining room where people with children can sit at a round table together and have a more family-style meal."
The new kitchen - used to prepare, serve and deliver food to those in need - is four times larger than the old kitchen.
"That added space has allowed us to expand our Backpack Buddies program into three more schools, serving more local children and their families," Pierce said. "With the added kitchen space, we can also accommodate more volunteers, allowing us capacity to react to emerging community food needs."
Pierce said the expanded space at the new site has increased its storage capacity for dry goods, and made it easier for staff to do prep work and accommodate more volunteers.
"We can now have 10 to 12 people in the kitchen all at one time, and we're not bumping into one another," she said. "In the old space, five people made it crowded in the kitchen."