“I pray every day that this place keeps going! It helps meet mental and emotional needs as well as physical.”—Faye Witherspoon
“I thought it was only for the homeless, but it’s for people like me, too. It’s a wonderful place.”—James Acree
“There are new people here every time I come. Lots of people eat here because they have no place else to go. Sometimes there are 200 people eating lunch.”—Lorrie Marlar
This “place” that Faye, James, and Lorrie are fondly, almost reverently, referring to is the Four Rivers Community Kitchen at 225 Broadway in Paducah. It was founded in February of 2008 by Sally Michelson, Jim Trimble, Mike Rothwell, and Brad Faulkner and served just 37 guests the first snowy week it opened. Today it serves between 800 and 1,000 every week of the year.
Witherspoon, a Salvation Army soldier for 40 years, said her first time at the kitchen was during the ice storm of 2009. “People were housed and fed, and no one was turned away,” she added.
“I was in the hospital once and two of the volunteers even came to see me,” Marlar proudly remembers.
Acree started coming to the Community Kitchen after hearing about it on the radio.“I live on South 28th Street in a camper and it’s really near me. It’s just got to keep going because it helps so many people.”
Sally Michelson (or Miss Sally) is the go-to person when a volunteer has a question, donated food is on a truck out back, or paper products are running low. She, however, gives credit to the many volunteers and team leaders it takes to keep the kitchen running smoothly.
“We have between 60 and 80 volunteers working each week. They come from local schools, churches, and organizations, We couldn’t survive without them,” Sally explained.
Mike Rothwell, board chairman of Community Ministries, Inc., offers praise for the volunteers. “We are so thankful for all of them. It’s because of them that we have been able to provide a hot meal and needed clothing throughout a difficult economy.”
Team leaders Joyce Cherry, Emma Dixon, Shirley Kortz, Camilla Madden, Iris Hines, and Sally organize and schedule the volunteers, plan meals, cook, serve and do whatever is necessary. The Community Ministries Board consists of Gary Eckelkamp, Brett Glover, Ben Northcut, Madden, Michelson, and Rothwell. Glover and Boogie Butler are “ministers on the floor,” another service offered to anyone who comes to the kitchen, and Kathy Bagwell serves as bookkeeper.
The kitchen is part of Community Ministries, Inc., which began when members of Four Rivers Church saw the need to clothe and feed the hungry, according to Sally. “Forty showed up to our first meeting to get the ball rolling. We talked to as many people as we could and passed out about a thousand flyers to homes in this part of Paducah.”
“Every week, more and more came to the kitchen. We still see some people who were here the very first week we opened our doors,” Sally said. No ID’s are required.
Funds are needed to maintain the building, update or replace appliances, purchase food and paper products, and pay utility bills. (The cost to serve one person per day is about $1.85.) The list is long and the need is great. “We are a non-profit and are not supported by the city or any other organization. Other non-profits serve meals for the hungry, but we are the only group that has a kitchen open five days a week,” Rothwell explained. The hours are 11 am -1 pm. A clothing drop-off is located behind the facility for donations.
Last year “The Empty Bowls Project” netted $12,500 for the group. “A huge outpouring of community support and participation by area restaurants made it a big success,” Rothwell added. It was the first major fund-raiser for the group and was the brainchild of Lower Town artist Michael Terra.
The Ray and Kay Eckstein Charitable Funds, the Charity League of Paducah, and others also support the ministries. “We could not open our doors without financial support from friends who give each year,” Rothwell said. “And we could not continue without people who put their hearts and souls into this.”
“Sally Michelson’s role is huge in the success of our ministries, in my opinion,” Rothwell said. “If it weren’t for her passion, Community Ministries might not even exist today. Without a doubt, Sally provides a shining example for all of us when it comes to selfless giving. She is a blessing to all of us who make Paducah our home.”
For more information go to www.community-ministries.org/donate or contact one of the board members.