William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Fri, 14 Oct 2005 09:37:17 -0400

Concord NH

Friendly Kitchen celebrates 25 years

30,000 a year find meals at refuge

Monitor staff

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 
her all.
"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 
of people."
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
Monitor staff