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Keeping Neighbors Fed: Sarah's Kitchen Says, We Can't Let Them Go Without Dinner!

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Tania Ortega-Cowan
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Tania Ortega-Cowan
Sarah's Kitchen of the Treasure Coast volunteers Pam Wymans, Peter Schultz, Carole Karsten, Steve Kocourek and Julie Summers

Travel with Tania Ortega-Cowan to see how one small soup kitchen feeds the hungry in St. Lucie County five days a week.

With food shortages on the rise due the pandemic, we wondered how some of our smaller soup kitchens are keeping the neighborhoods around them fed.

Today we’re headed to the First Congregational Church on Sidonia Street in Port St. Lucie. It’s the “Wednesday” location, one of five in St Lucie County, where the nonprofit Sarah’s Kitchen of the Treasure Coast cooks and feeds local residents in need. It’s 4 pm, and already cars are lined up for when they begin serving at 4:30.

We approach the portico of the church where several volunteers are setting up food distribution tables.

Volunteers: Hello! Christopher Ripp, Steve Kocourek, Margit Hollmeyer.

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Tania Ortega-Cowan
Chris Ripp and Margit Hollmeyer

MH: I think the third week of March we started serving curbside because Sarah’s Kitchen decided we cannot let the people go without dinner!”

We ask if the pandemic has caused an increase in need.

MH: Yeah, we started with serving 64 dinners in March.

SK: Today we cooked for 250.

In addition to the hot meals, they also have cold milk, baked items, and fresh produce. The food comes in from the Treasure Coast Food Bank, and from donations from businesses like Publix, Panera Bread, Wawa and Chick-Fil-A.

MH: We have cucumbers, and squash, and eggplant. And we’re giving all this stuff away.

Just through the doors behind them is a big, empty dining hall where they used to serve dinner before COVID-19.

JS: People would come into the fellowship hall and sit down like they were at a restaurant and we would serve them their meal at their table. But since COVID hit, we’re doing to-go meals now.

This is Julie Summers, director for Sarah’s Kitchen. Today she’s also in charge of the salad. We’ve joined her in the kitchen along with a team of volunteers who are busy packing hot meals into containers for the cars outside. They prepare the meals from scratch in shifts, starting at 11 am each weekday.

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Tania Ortega-Cowan

TOC: Smells good!

Volunteers: Hi! Peter Schultz. Pam Wymans. Carole Karsten.

TOC: And Steve – we met outside. What’s for dinner?

CK: Baked potatoes, and gravy, corn with tomatoes, sweet and sour ham.

There’s also salad and warm buttered bread.

JS: And we serve about 70,000 meals a year.

They started in 2009 in response to the economic hardships of that time and quickly grew to serving 5 days a week throughout St. Lucie County.

JS: And then 6 years ago we started a mobile feeding program where we go out on the streets of Fort Pierce once a week and feed the homeless and the hungry.

We ask about the impact of the pandemic on the number of people coming to eat.

JS: So, yea, here it has almost tripled, at this site.

At the same time, they have had to cut back on the number of volunteers working in the kitchen for safe social distancing.

JS: And a lot of our volunteers are elderly and really shouldn’t be coming out in the…

SK: Hey wait a minute!

JS: You’re not that old, Steve. You need more of that milk out there, Margit? Or not yet?

MH: No, not yet.

It’s 4:30 now, so we step back outside where line up of cars is long, and the volunteers are working hard.

CR and MH: Thank you! Bye-bye! Enjoy your dinner! I got them the dinners.

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Tania Ortega-Cowan
Margit Hollmeyer

CR: You get to know them. They a lot of times say thank god. You know, thank you. (to another volunteer): Oh my buddy – he goes for everything. He’s got kids. He’s got kids.

MH: Hi, how are you? How many? Two? Do you need milk too? We have gallons of milk.

Summers says they have been able to meet the need because of increased donations. You can learn more here: https://sarahskitchen.org/