What started with some soup leftover from a canceled church event, God has blessed and grown into a feeding program that serves an average of 110 meals each week.
Larry Apperson, said that many years ago, a church he attended in Atlanta had a feeding wagon that took breakfast to the streets. The model stuck in the back of his mind for years and eventually inspired the creation of Cornerstone Community Kitchen, a ministry of the Princeton United Methodist Church which feeds the hungry in the community every
Wednesday night; rain or shine, holiday or ordinary day. Apperson said the first attempt was just by chance when inclement weather canceled a scheduled event at the church and he and another couple decided to offer the planned meal – soup – to the hungry. He said they placed signs outside the church and even walked the streets, but couldn’t find any hungry to feed. The lesson taught them two things: that they would need to advertise well and that they would also need to be consistent.
Years later, these two principles stuck as Princeton UMC launched Cornerstone Community Kitchen on June 6, 2012. Apperson said under the leadership of Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash, senior pastor, the church took a step of faith when they received a phone call from the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen [TASK] looking to start another satellite site, and asking if the church would be interested.
On that first night, TASK provided all of the food: a hot entrée, vegetables, salad, and drinks and the church supplied the workforce and space. Together they fed 12 people. Today TASK still provides the hot entrée, but Cornerstone Community Kitchen provides the rest of the meal to serve those 110. Apperson said not only are more people being fed through Cornerstone Community Kitchen, more volunteers are joining the task of feeding the hungry. With a database of 110 volunteers, only 30 percent being church members, the kitchen joins people from all walks of life. “The greatest unexpected pleasure that’s come from our service has been the coming together of people from throughout the community to serve,” said Apperson.
While planning begins on Monday and set-up and preparation occurs through much of Wednesday, weekly teams of people from the church, scout troops and other religious, community and volunteer organizations make it all possible. Apperson calls it “a work of love”.
Many people do not associate the city of Princeton with hunger, but it’s there, said Dennis Micai, executive director of TASK. “Through this satellite site, we will be able to provide meals to people who may not be able to make it to our locations in Trenton or Hightstown,” Micai said. A woman who takes the bus to a job in Princeton and is a regular at the meal reiterates that message. “Some of us who have jobs; we can’t get help from the government, but we still have trouble paying our bills,” she said.
Feeding the hungry was not the only motivation for starting Cornerstone Community Kitchen, said Purkis-Brash. “I very much heard a message from God about the importance of finding a way to build community within the wider community,” she said. “This is not a Soup Kitchen it’s a Community Kitchen where a single senior citizen can share a meal and fellowship, where a woman learning to speak English can come and practice with others who offer encouragement, where a student who is used to having dinner with his mom can come for a nutritious meal and tender care from a mom who is volunteering.” Apperson agreed, saying that while there are no religious (or political) messages shared at Cornerstone Community Kitchen, he has seen many people grow.
“We see people changing,” he said.
He shared that for him one of the God moments was hearing a young boy say that he loves to eat at Jesus’ restaurant. In many ways Cornerstone Community Kitchen is just like a restaurant with dinners being served on fine china by waiters and waitresses with live piano music playing in the background. Apperson shared that another woman who frequently attends, enjoys it because it is one of the only places she can just sit and be served.
In addition to the feeding program, Cornerstone Community Kitchen also runs a clothes closet, free clothing that clients can select during the dinner. Princeton UMC also contributes to and helps run a clothes closet (Threads of Hope) at Chambers Street United Methodist Church. When asked if he has any advice for a church that may be feeling led to having a feeding ministry of their own, Apperson encourages taking the leap of faith. “Do it,” he said. “On a local level, even if you feed just one person, you’ve made an impact.”