[Hpn] 25 YEARS OF SERVICE TO HUNGRY/POOR FRIENDLY KITCHEN OPEN HOUSE TODAY FROM 10 AM-2 PM
William Charles Tinker
Fri, 14 Oct 2005 09:37:17 -0400
Friendly Kitchen celebrates 25 years
30,000 a year find meals at refuge
By ALLISON STEELE
October 14. 2005
Twenty-five years ago today, a handful of volunteers gathered in the senior
center on Main Street to open the city's first and only soup kitchen. They
brought cans of soup and sandwiches from home, and they made coffee. Three
people showed up for dinner that night, and by the end of the month the
kitchen had nine or 10 regulars.
The Friendly Kitchen now feeds seven times that many people every night.
Last year, the kitchen's all-volunteer staff dished out more than 30,000
meals - all provided by donations.
"It's needed now more than ever," said Polly Bell, the founder and first
president of the Friendly Kitchen.
Today, current president Hope Butterworth is holding an open house to invite
the community to tour the kitchen on its anniversary. Now housed in a
building on Montgomery Street, the dinners offered by the kitchen have
become a seven-day-a-week, year-round institution.
It receives cash and food donations from dozens of local organizations,
churches and businesses. This winter, the kitchen plans to start serving
breakfast each day as well, instead of just on weekends.
"I don't know how we're going to do it," said Butterworth, who began as a
volunteer at the kitchen. "But that's the plan."
Butterworth took over seven years ago and is now widely regarded as the
engine behind both the Friendly Kitchen's growth and its success in securing
donations - a dubious honor, considering she had planned for her run as
president to be temporary.
"When I took over, I said, 'We're going to serve seven meals a week, we're
going to get our own place, and then I'm going to retire,'" said
Butterworth, now 69. "But it turns out not many people want my job."
Bell opened the Friendly Kitchen in 1980, serving three meals a week with
volunteer help from several local churches. In 1982, the kitchen moved to
the Riverbend building on North State Street, where there was a dining room
and kitchen but no place to store food. The kitchen kept food at St. Peter's
Church, even as the clients grew to about 35 each night and the meals
expanded to five days a week.
In 1998, Bell decided she needed to pass her responsibilities to someone
else. She was growing older, she said, and the job had become too demanding.
She chose Butterworth as her successor, sensing Butterworth would give it
"When I asked her about it, she said, 'I don't think I can do it,'" said
Bell, 83. "But then she did. And right away I saw she had more guts than I
When the kitchen was temporarily displaced from Riverbend due to a fire, the
organization spent months shuttling from place to place. It was winter, and
Butterworth was losing sleep worrying about the kitchen's future. She
decided it was time the Friendly Kitchen had its own home, and successfully
pushed the board of directors to seek one out.
"I was always very chicken about getting in debt," Bell said. "We live on
donations, and it seemed a very fragile thing. But she had the courage to go
looking for a house."
Butterworth persuaded several donors to put up enough money to take out a
loan on the house. As word got out that the kitchen needed money to pay for
the building, Bell said, donations flooded in like never before. People sent
checks and dropped off furniture or winter coats.
A crew of inmates from the state prison did much of the renovating,
wallpapering the dining room, building a pass-through and fixing up the
bathroom. Butterworth remembered one inmate who struggled to open a door
that was wedged closed.
"He said, 'Hey, I'm not a burglar,'"Butterworth said, laughing. "He was a
murderer, in fact."
The Friendly Kitchen opened its doors on Montgomery Street in 1999. Five
years later, the kitchen snagged a series of anonymous donations that
allowed it to pay off the mortgage a decade ahead of schedule. When the
mortgage was paid off, Butterworth and others set it on fire on the steps of
the kitchen - the building board members decided to rename "Hope House."
It's difficult for Butterworth to quantify how much help the kitchen
receives. The program has overhead costs of about $4,500 each month, which
are paid for by cash donations.
Most of the food comes from food drives, the state food bank, community
programs and individuals. The kitchen itself is run entirely by volunteers
who come in groups from churches, companies, schools or rotary clubs.
Many credit Butterworth's focused, efficient approach with the kitchen's
staying power in the community. Butterworth sees the Friendly Kitchen as
having one goal: to feed those who do not otherwise have the means to eat.
Some are homeless, others mentally ill patients, others are elderly or poor
people living on fixed incomes. Over the years, Butterworth has noticed more
younger people coming to the Friendly Kitchen, a trend she finds as
depressing as the kitchen's growing number of clients.
"There are people who get a certain amount of money each month, who have
told me they got tired of living outside, but then couldn't afford food,"
she said. "There are people who really don't eat anywhere but here."
Louise Parenteau, vice-president of the board of directors, said she
believes the kitchen has stayed afloat due in part to the simplicity of its
"Feeding people is just so basic," she said. "It just rings true with a lot
Butterworth sees today's anniversary not as a celebratory event but as a
fundraising opportunity. More mouths to feed means the kitchen will need
more money and more volunteers - all issues that will be Butterworth's
responsibility for a while, it appears.
"I keep asking Louise, wouldn't she like to be president?" Butterworth said,
laughing. "Oh, well. Maybe I'll screw up enough times that they'll say, 'Get
someone else in there!'"
(Today's open house is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 14 Montgomery Street.)
------ End of article
By ALLISON STEELE