The kitchen comes alive every morning during the week about 7 a.m., with renewed conversations, the warming of cold bodies with coffee, the putting on of aprons and flashing smiles. The volunteers start unloading the truck full of donated foods from local schools, restaurants and catering companies, as the rest of us start preparing the meal for lunch and the rest of the week. Welcome to our Rome-Floyd County Community Kitchen here in Rome, located just off Calhoun Avenue, where organized chaos mixes with three parts love and one part patrons, coming together to feed the hungry.
Rome is the best version of itself in this kitchen because it is there that our community celebrates and embraces all that has been divinely intended for Rome by giving so generously and with love to folks that don’t have all that much. If one is not sure about what Rome’s best version of itself looks like, they only need to come visit or volunteer at our one-of-a-kind community kitchen.
A deep friendly voice is heard coming from the executive director above the rumblings of conversation as the unemployed, working poor, elderly, lonely, mentally and/or physically challenged, come inside to escape the elements and enjoy a continental breakfast and delicious lunch. He gently directs up to 20 volunteers a day on food preparation and guides the disabled adults that come to work in the kitchen each day from the Floyd Training Center. It is the continual service of several hundred volunteers that one can see the goodness and love coming forth from our community. One might prepare and serve lunch alongside a realtor, accountant, teacher, three generations of family, retired military personnel, police officers, stay-at-home-moms, pastors, people completing their community service hours, unemployed folks on disability, college students, bankers or contractors. All of these folks give generously of their time and sometimes money. They are the most important part of what makes Rome’s best version of itself in our community kitchen.
The repeat patrons to the kitchen are just like you and me — they just experience different life issues, most of them having a difficult time coping with changes in their health, housing and relationships. Most are lonely, don’t have a lot of family nearby to help or don’t really have an income to speak of, and most of all, they are all hungry. The kitchen was created as a cooperative initiative by several downtown churches to meet the need of these hungry clients in 2009, and now serves about 150 meals each day. Over 50,000 meals were served in 2017, and many blankets, jackets, and hygiene products have also been donated from the community throughout the year. The compound has grown to include a shower and laundering facility for the homeless as well. It seats 115 people at once and all seats are usually taken while lunch is served from 10:45 a.m. to noon. The regulars who come to eat at the kitchen also help out to make sure that the kitchen runs smoothly and is always clean.
A key ingredient to the kitchen’s success is the volunteers, mostly coming from 11 local churches, signing up for one week a month. Volunteers also come from other areas in our community: high school students that organize all the cans and fold laundry, a mother-daughter team that bakes homemade Christmas cookies every year, and a 96-year-old volunteer who comes faithfully to help and brings delicious treats for the volunteers. These volunteers have established relationships with our kitchen customers, and genuinely embrace and celebrate each of the patrons, bringing laughter and love to these forgotten customers daily.
Another key ingredient is the friendly booming voice you always hear — the only paid employee of this kingdom. He gives counsel to our customers and prays for them, enforces the rules, drives around the community every morning to pick up donated food, maintains the building, directs the volunteers, and is always offering up his laughter. He maintains order in this special place while caring for the patrons, demonstrating yet another way in which Rome’s best version of itself shines.
If you ever wondered what it would be like to be part of Rome’s best version itself, you will find it in our community kitchen, with all the ingredients working together, to fill your heart and their bellies with nutritious meals and plenty of love. It is a small piece of real estate in our community that accomplishes mighty things; where you can meet the most amazing customers and volunteers and bring about the best version of yourself!
Roman Betty Schaaf is a volunteer, a writer, a sojourner and a self-described wellness addict.