The Little Kitchen That Could

December 28, 2015

Wasn’t there a children’s book written and published a long time ago called The Little Engine That Could?  And it contained repetitive statements of self-belief, didn’t it?  “I think I can I think I can I think I can!”   Well, that’s our little shelter kitchen and the staff and volunteers and guests who work in it.

In 1996 the kitchen consisted of one electric stove that previously was in the “Cedar side basement” and a couple of seen-better-days refrigerators.  One of our magnificently full of character volunteers, who spent more than a fair amount of time hobnobbing with the proprietors of nearby businesses on Lower Main Street, took it upon himself to upgrade our equipment.  One morning he explained that he was going on a mission.  When he returned in his driving his black pickmeup truck, he proudly displayed the first installment of what would soon be 3, more than slightly used commercial coolers that he had pried from the lobby of the pizza shop down the road.  The next year I took advantage of a well-intentioned offer from a church-based bakery.  After installing the proper wiring for a commercial electric oven requiring 220 with resources very dear and cried out for by several other pressing needs, a huge, double oven black beauty with six top burners sat in our little kitchen, taking up half the space while waiting to warm up its first evening meal.  Within 2 months I had learned what everyone else on the face of this earth already knew, and the increase in our electric bill said goodbye to black beauty.

As we managed to live through some crises both financial and otherwise, there was an increase in available time with which to contemplate our facility and consider possible improvements.  The kitchen, with its noisy and costly coolers and insufficient stove and never clean enough floors and shelves and counters was a frequent subject of our thoughts.  Gradually, a slow motion miracle unfolded.  A terrific, philanthropic entity called the Bell Telephone Pioneers stepped up and offered to provide a new stove along with the hood and ductwork necessary to at least vent smoke out the back window.  (If anyone from Code is happening to read this, we have now taken steps to be compliant.)  The UPS Foundation came through on refrigeration with a brand new walk-in cooler.  Hollywood Casino (then Slots) funded new, stainless steel counters and prep space, and a grant from Maine Housing took care of the remodeling and relocation of shelves and storage areas.  Just this year Bangor Green Drinks provided the cash necessary to purchase and install a commercial dishwasher, gussying up appearances into the current century and reducing both the costs for and the dumping of an awful lot of plastic and Styrofoam every year.

The events described above took place over a span of 6-10 years and the story so far has not included one of the best parts.  In the beginning of December one year, staff took a call from a family asking if they could prepare and serve Christmas breakfast.  I believe it had been a warm tradition for them as a family and now, with the kids old enough to really help, they wanted to continue the tradition here for folks experiencing homelessness.  Sur enough, arriving around 5:00 a.m. with several dozen eggs and pancake mix and juice and coffee and bacon, this wonderful family made good on their promised event.  A little before 8:00, as the first of the prepare-the-Christmas dinner volunteers started arriving, the father mentioned that the stove we had wasn’t up to snuff.  Two days later a truck from Dunnetts off-loaded two, brand new stoves!

We’ve since had to replace those two stoves, but the newer ones along with the walk-in, the shelves and floor, the stainless steel prep counters and of course the dishwasher really hum every day.  Thanks to wonderful volunteers, compassionate donors and frugal management, the little kitchen at 263 pumps out approximately 35,000 meals each year, and without a food budget! 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and thanks, community, from all of us!