By Liz Premo, Atlantic News Staff Writer
Atlantic News, Thursday, October 23, 2003
[Atlantic News Photo by Liz Premo]
HAMPTON - Throughout the summer months, as residents and vacationers well know, Hampton Beach is constantly abuzz with activity. From the earliest murmurings just prior to Memorial Day in May, to when the last huge tent comes down after September's Seafood Festival has concluded, the population at the beach swells to incredible proportions.
Things settle down significantly once autumn rolls in, and the area's winter residents quietly move into the lodgings left empty by summer's revelers. Many of those who populate the beach during the off-season may be transient workers, traveling to where the jobs may happen to be. Others may be those who, for various personal reasons, have found they need to take up temporary shelter in lodgings which are typically less expensive to rent than year-round housing. Whatever the case may be, a portion of the winter populace often needs a bit of a helping hand courtesy of the kindness of strangers.
That's where St. Vincent's Kitchen comes in. Located at 37 Ashworth Avenue across from the Mainsail Hotel, St. Vincent's has been in operation since 1989, serving hot, homecooked meals free of charge to those who come through the doors. Staffed by volunteers from four Hampton area churches (Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, the First Congregational, Trinity Episcopal and the United Methodist Churches), St. Vincent's Kitchen provides its guests a warm welcome and a hot meal each week from 5-7 p.m., Monday through Thursday, from mid-October to mid-May.
Teams of cooks and servers - all volunteers - bring meals prepared at home to be served at the kitchen. A monthly coordinator is present at each seating, greeting patrons and assisting the kitchen workers, and arranging for daily supplies of bread, pastries and milk. About 40 or so patrons are served on any given evening; during the 2002-03 season, more than 4000 meals were prepared and served by all four churches. Volunteers from OLMM serve on Tuesdays and Thursdays; the Methodist Church, Wednesdays; and Trinity and the Congregational Church on Mondays.
Originally housed in an apartment that is part of a "C" Street/Ashworth Avenue complex owned by Realtor Bob Preston (who generously donates space each year for both the soup kitchen and a free medical clinic), St. Vincent's Kitchen is operated by the St. Vincent de Paul Society at OLMM. It has just opened up for the 2003-04 season in a brand new space, just around the corner from its previous location.
What was once a Laundromat has been converted into a spacious dining area and fully functional, well-equipped kitchen space, complete with microwave, oven/range, refrigerator, sink, cabinets, cooking utensils, and shelves stocked with various canned goods. Coffee and tea are available at the counter, dining tables (covered with bright tablecloths) and chairs line both sides of a half-wall partition, and a newly-installed restroom is nearby. The dining area is clean, bright and welcoming, and the aroma of a homecooked meal emanating from the kitchen offers a comforting touch on a chilly fall night.
A number of individuals have "put a ton of time in to renovate the area," according to Dick Glennon, who serves as the program's annual coordinator. "The St. Vincent de Paul Society is grateful for the efforts of Charlie Preston, Dick Roy, Bob Rancourt and Jim Vaughan, who were instrumental in renovating the Laundromat into a bright, comfortable kitchen and dining room, and also wishes to express its appreciation to Bob Preston for allowing the Society to occupy the property rent-free."
Volunteering for St. Vincent's Kitchen is a heartwarming act in itself. This past Monday evening, Jan and Bob Thompson and Barbara and Jerry Sawyer welcomed and served those patrons who came by to enjoy a dinner of chicken a la king, mashed potatoes, applesauce, bread and butter, beverage, and apple or blueberry pie.
"Each of us took the same recipe, and each of us made it up," said Jan, dishing up meal after meal onto partitioned foam trays. As Bob and Jerry brought the dinners into the dining room, Barbara wrote down how many were served, and whether anyone requested a second helping (this helps the volunteers keep track of the numbers of patrons and aids in planning future meals).
That number "varies from night to night," said Bob, and there is always a reserve supply of food in case the evening's entree is used up. "Nobody's going to go away hungry," promised Jan. On the other hand, the weather often plays a part in how many meals are served. For example, explained Jerry, if there's a downpour, "some people don't want to venture out too far if they live at the far end of the beach."
Whatever the weather, as far as St. Vincent Kitchen patrons go, said Jan, "they can just drop in." She confided that "there are some people who just come for the companionship" or "come in to get warm." And, it goes without saying that this type of volunteer work is incredibly satisfying.
"Just to see the people happy is such a reward," said Barbara. "It's so nice to see them come in and enjoy themselves."
"At the end of the evening," said Jan, "I feel very tired and very exhilarated. It's very rewarding. Most people are so appreciative - it makes you feel really good to help somebody."
For more information about St. Vincent's Kitchen, call the St. Vincent de Paul Society at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Hampton, 929-4427.