Hometown Hero: The Friendly Kitchen staff provide hot meals to the Concord community 365-days-a-year

  • Volunteers Louise Parenteau (left) and Pat Vaillancourt prepare to heat up fried chicken for the Friday lunch meal at The Friendly Kitchen. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • A recent photo of the staff of The Friendly Kitchen in the eating area. The Friendly Kitchen

Monitor staff
Published: 12/4/2022 8:00:29 PM

A hot meal is served at The Friendly Kitchen 365 days a year. With a slim staff and dedicated group of volunteers, the local soup kitchen has served either breakfast, lunch or dinner to the Concord community everyday for almost five decades.

“We feed folks without asking questions,” said Valerie Guy, the executive director. “We feed seniors, veterans, some families in the location, lots of families outside of the location, housed people, homeless people.”

The Friendly Kitchen offers dinner seven days a week in its dining room. Lunch is available weekdays, and breakfast is offered Saturday and Sundays.

Throughout the winter, from December to March, breakfast is expanded to seven days a week to coincide with the opening of the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness winter shelter.

The purpose of the soup kitchen is simple: to serve a hot meal to those who want one.

The execution of doing so is more complicated with some volunteers who are first timers in the kitchen or those who know their way around the non-profit’s industrial sized pantry. But it is all doable thanks to The Friendly Kitchen’s staff, who is the latest nominee in the Monitor’s Hometown Hero series.

“We rely solely on a lot of volunteers that come in volunteer groups will prepare our dinners,” said Guy. “But our staff, you know, is really very dedicated.”

Sara Curran began volunteering at The Friendly Kitchen five years ago. Now, she’s a full time employee as the office manager, where she oversees the schedule of volunteers and helps coordinate and plan weekly menus.

It was the community of The Friendly Kitchen – both the mealtime guests and volunteer staff – that kept her coming back each day, she said.

“I fell in love with people that eat here,” she said. “I think we all really enjoy helping people so we have a passion for that here.”

For most meals, a volunteer group will come to the kitchen and plan their process – from prep to clean up. Thanks to donations from local grocery stories, community funds and the United States Department of Agriculture, the soup kitchen has a fully stocked pantry, fridge and freezer of ingredients for volunteers to choose from.

There are some groups that have participated for decades, like the Greek Orthodox Church. Other times, a sports team or school group will spend a night prepping and serving meals.

“It’s nice over the years to have seen the number of students that have started stepping up,” said Louise Parenteau, a longtime volunteer.

Parenteau is one of a handful of The Friendly Kitchen dining room coordinators, their core group of volunteers, that began working with the soup kitchen when it was housed in its former location on Montgomery Street. After a fire in 2011 destroyed the old Victorian house, the soup kitchen raised money to built its current location on South Commercial Street.

Harold “Ole” Olson has also volunteered at the soup kitchen for the past two decades. Doing so has allowed him to create a family at The Friendly Kitchen and see a new side of the Concord community.

“One thing I’ve learned working here 20 years is that I live in a very kind, generous community. People can make donations here all the time with the backdoor. People will bring their kids in with donations so the kids can learn cooperation and helping,” he said. “I know when I walked down the street and walk by somebody that I’m living in a kind community.”

The staff will joke that if you meet Terry Blake, she’ll instantly rope you in to volunteering at The Friendly Kitchen. Blake, alongside her husband Carroll, is another member of the volunteer dining room coordinators.

For Terry, working at The Friendly Kitchen is a continuation of previous roles in the Concord community. She was the original director of the winter shelter at First Church and later served as a volunteer coordinator for the shelter as well.

For others, volunteering at The Friendly Kitchen provides insight into needs in the Concord community that may go unnoticed, said Guy.

“When you’re here you kind of you get to see people’s needs and how much need there actually is,” she said. “People will pull at your heartstrings and it’s a really good group.”

The Friendly Kitchen accepts donations in the form of food, both perishable and non-perishable that are not past their expiration date, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 2 South Commercial Street in Concord. In the winter months they also accept hats and gloves.


MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.



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