CAMDEN, NJ — A special delivery from Andreotti’s Catering in Cherry Hill was 30 minutes out from Camden’s Cathedral’s Kitchen Friday morning.
But the non-profit, which has served some 70,000 meals year to date, was already busy with cooks doing prep work, volunteers readying for the rush and even Chef Jill McClennen hosting a (socially-distanced) class in the center’s main space.
“Basically, this training class provides instruction on resume-building, going through interviews and other things to prepare you for a job,” Alexandra Wills, community relations director for Cathedral Kitchen, told TAPinto Camden.
“We hope in the spring to get back to culinary and baking, but really it depends on COVID. Typically, we have about 30 students getting more hands-on experience,” Wills added.
The pandemic forced the Camden kitchen to take on new tactics in its mission to provide roughly 100,000 meals a year to one the most vulnerable populations during the coronavirus outbreak. Although it had to shudder its dining area and initially suspend the use of the CK Café next door, the non-profit continued the former with safety protocols and jump started the latter in late June with to-go meals.
“Since May of this year when some of our outreach partners began to reopen and request our services, we have increased our meal distribution by 38%,” said Noreen Flewelling, development director. “We are currently distributing close to 1,000 monthly meals to our outreach partners.”
That’s thousands of meals a day for shelters and halfway houses throughout the city, and hundreds of hot plates each day for people struggling to get food during the COVID-19 crisis.
Wills explained that this afternoon’s meals wouldn’t have to be cooked on site thanks to a shipment from Cherry Hill’s Andreotti’s Catering. As if on cue, a white van pulled up with enough chicken, pasta rosemary, Caesar salad and bread rolls to feed 300.
The donation was made possible with help from non-profit Soup Kitchen 411. As part of the second ever #FeedingFriday event, more than 2,000 meals are being served Friday across seven New Jersey counties and various municipalities, including Newark, New Brunswick and Paterson.
"Since April, we've been serving hundreds of meals per week throughout the state to help combat the epidemic of food insecurity,” said Ken DeRoberts, Founder of SoupKitchen411. “#FeedingFriday is our largest monthly day of action, the last Friday of every month, where we try to serve over 2,000 meals across the entire state. We will continue these days of action until our funds run dry or the need for food becomes lower than pre-COVID19 levels.”
It is the third time Andreotti’s is serving up hot fresh food for Cathedral Kitchen, with recent donations of sandwiches, wraps and salads from Philly Dinner as well.
On Friday, community members can head to Cathedral Kitchen at 1514 Federal St., to grab a to-go meal from 3:15 to 5 p.m. The kitchen also gives out food and bottles of water on Saturdays, from Noon to 1 p.m. - with no paperwork required.
Face masks will be available.
Community outreach in many forms
At Cathedral Kitchen, serving up food is just one of many forms of outreach.
Wills explained that “Choice Personal Care” began recently, in order to provide essentials for locals who be homeless or facing financial hardships. A quick trip to a pantry adjacent to the main space, revealed plastic cubbies filled with, among other things, razors, shaving cream, brushes and body wash.
“We’ve given away personal items for many, many years. But it was a little bit more like whatever we bought, if it was enough for everybody, we made that available for free. Somebody might say, ‘I’m out of shampoo or I need deodorant,” she said. “This is more of an inventory, we’ve been able to build up. And we know it’ll make a big difference.”
On Monday, in addition to providing personal care items, CK will serve Rita’s water ice with help from volunteer Elaine Zaleski, owner of the Rita’s on Rt 561 in Voorhees.
People in the area can also take advantage of the following: (Tuesday) help to fill out the census, with bi-lingual assistance and $5 complimentary Walmart gift card, (Wednesday) a market stand and plenty of books from Camden County pop-up library, (Thursday) COVID-19 testing by Project H.O.P.E, with no referral needed and a county nurse onsite and (Friday) census help, voter registration and United Healthcare providing information and giveaways.
“We would usually have about 25 to 30 volunteers, now it’s more like 5. That’s perhaps been one of the toughest parts, because they tell us they want to come back but, especially in the beginning, we didn’t know what we were dealing with,” said Wills. “It’s been important to keep everyone safe and so that’s had its challenges, but we’re thrilled we’re starting to come back and hopefully get even more normalized in the coming months.”
Cathedral Kitchen will host a virtual fundraiser, Harvest Happy Hour, on Nov. 7 from 7 to p.m. To learn more or register click here.