Friendly Kitchen prepares to open new building in Concord
The Friendly Kitchen will begin serving meals at its new South Commercial Street building next week, nearly 20 months after its former site was badly damaged by a fire.
The soup kitchen will host an open house Thursday, with a short ceremony and an opportunity for the public to see the new building. Food and supplies still needs to be moved into the new building, and board President Phil Wallingford said the first meal will be served at South Commercial Street sometime next week.
“It’s thrilling,” Wallingford said. “It is really thrilling for all of us. Especially the last month, there is so much progress day by day.”
Since a fire damaged the Friendly Kitchen’s Montgomery Street building in April 2011, the soup kitchen has served meals from three different local churches: Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on North State Street, St. Peter’s Church on North State Street and Sacred Heart Church on Pleasant Street.
Wallingford said he expects the move into the new building to go smoothly because the kitchen has made three moves since the fire. The move will include transporting walk-in freezers and refrigerators that survived the fire and are now at Sacred Heart Church, the kitchen’s temporary home since last October. While a date has not been set for the new site’s first meal, Wallingford said no meals will be missed during the transition.
Cobb Hill Construction is still working on the “typical last minute flurry of completing a project like this,” Wallingford said. But he and other board members have already spent time inside the new building. “It is beyond exciting for all of us, and it’s just going to be a great place to serve meals,” he said.
When the move is complete, the Friendly Kitchen will have a permanent home for the first time in more than a year and a half.
The soup kitchen opened in 1980 and moved into the Montgomery Street Hope House, named for longtime board member Hope Butterworth, in 1999.
After the April 2011 fire, some neighbors of the Hope House opposed a plan to rebuild on the same site. The Friendly Kitchen abandoned its plans on Montgomery Street that summer, citing the threat of legal action from residents who didn’t want a soup kitchen in their neighborhood.
The nonprofit group announced its purchase of the South Commercial Street property, in a nonresidential area, last November, and broke ground on the new building in July.
The Friendly Kitchen received a $500,000 federal Community Development Block Grant and a $300,000 tax credit grant from the state’s Community Development Finance Authority to fund the project. Merrimack County Savings Bank provided loans for the project, allowing it to move forward while fundraising continued.
Tax credit sales and fundraising are still needed to pay off the loans, but Wallingford said the $1.8 million total cost is $100,000 under budget.
“And that includes not just the construction, but the purchase of the land, the site work, whatever fees permitting we had to do,” he said.
This winter, Wallingford said the new building will be open one extra hour each day – 30 extra minutes before each meal – to give guests a warm place to stay. The building will open at 11 a.m. for daily lunch and at 4 p.m. for dinner, he said.
The Friendly Kitchen serves two meals a day during warmer months but will begin serving three meals per day when the city’s emergency cold weather shelters open next week.
This week’s open house, from 4 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, is open to the public.