Friendly Kitchen expands to grow meal delivery program

Friendly Kitchen Executive Director Valerie Guy shows the expanded storage area that will become a prep kitchen as part of the 1000 square foot expansion project.

Friendly Kitchen Executive Director Valerie Guy shows the expanded storage area that will become a prep kitchen as part of the 1000 square foot expansion project. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Added storage and meal prep spaces will allow the Friendly Kitchen to grow its partnerships delivering food to families through community partners. 

Added storage and meal prep spaces will allow the Friendly Kitchen to grow its partnerships delivering food to families through community partners.  GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Construction of the expanded area off of the Friendly Kitchen main building which will house a storage area.

Construction of the expanded area off of the Friendly Kitchen main building which will house a storage area. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Construction of the expanded area off of the Friendly Kitchen main building which will house a storage area.

Construction of the expanded area off of the Friendly Kitchen main building which will house a storage area. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Monitor staff

Published: 02-22-2024 2:53 PM

On a typical weekday at the Friendly Kitchen, breakfast volunteers start cooking at 7 a.m. They’ll leave around 9:30 to make way for a lunch crew that arrives at 10:30. Lunch volunteers depart at 1:30, leaving just an hour and a half before dinner volunteers come in at 3.

It’s a well-oiled machine that has provided free, hot meals to people in the Concord area for four decades, serving almost 50,000 meals per year. But the organization has been expanding. Starting in 2021, they began delivering pre-packaged meals to people in the area through partner organizations like daycares, schools to crisis centers.

Now in its third year, that new pillar of its work, called the Family Friendly Meals program, has grown quickly. Executive Director Valerie Guy wants to see that trend continue.

“That’s feeding a lot of adults, kids, grandparents, whoever it may be,” she said. “We’re getting lots of requests to grow that program.”

It quickly became apparent that the existing facility could not support that.

“When we took on this extension of our mission, of what we’re doing, we absolutely did not want it to affect what had already been successful,” Guy said. “We know there’s a need and we know we could feed more families – but I need more space to do that.”

A 1,000-square-foot expansion underway will add a prep kitchen, more storage and offices to their South Commercial Street location, originally built in 2012.

Meals for more than 50 families every week, as well as for seniors through Horseshoe Pond Place and people in emergency housing, are made in the Friendly Kitchen as part of the Family Friendly Meals program. Those new partnerships mean the organization is able to reach more people, and especially families, experiencing food insecurity in the area, Guy said.

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“There’s a lot of people struggling with food insecurity, lots of families, that for many reasons won’t come here with their kids to eat at the facility,” Guy said. Whether those obstacles are transportation, time, stigma or others, the effort meets them where they’re at – through organizations they already frequently contact. The kitchen passes the meals to its partners, who help identify people who may benefit from the program and deliver them food.

The new prep kitchen especially will be key, providing a space for these off-site meals to be prepared, assembled and packaged and giving those cooking regular meals more elbow room.

Adding off-site meals means they’ll be making more food every day. It also means they’ll need a high volume of to-go containers and other packaging on hand and increased data tracking of pounds in, pounds out. More storage and office space will be critical.

As another way to bolster its total cooking space, the kitchen has expanded its partnership with the Concord Regional Technical Center. For several years, students in the culinary program have cooked turkeys for the Friendly Kitchen during the holidays. Starting a few months ago, students began more regularly making food for the site, like when the Friendly Kitchen receives a donation of unusual foods or during times when volunteer availability is light, such as vacation seasons.

The Family Friendly Meals Program delivered almost 17,000 pounds of food in its first year, growing to almost 25,000 pounds in its second. Its partners include Merrimack Valley Day Care, the Boys and Girls Club of Concord, Friends of Forgotten Children, the Crisis Center of Central NH, The Friends Emergency Housing Program, the Concord School District, NHTI students, Concord Housing residents and local food pantries.

With roughly half of children and adults in New Hampshire living in households with insufficient food — thousands of whom live in Merrimack County — according to New Hampshire Hunger Solutions data from 2023, the kitchen is motivated to put the new space into action. Almost immediately after the expansion is completed, Guy wants the number of families served by the program to rise 20%, and for it to grow another 20% within the next few months.

By tapping into its reserves and securing a loan, the kitchen was able to front the project costs last year. Now, as construction enters its final phase, it will launch a capital campaign in April with a $500,000 target to cover the cost.

“People don’t realize how many people are actually in need in our state,” Guy said. That fundraising, “yes, it’s for construction. But it is really to help expand this program in serving the families that need it in our greater Concord community.”