The Lord’s Kitchen History
by Deacon F. Paul Kurmay
President of The Lord’s Kitchen
In the fall of 2010, members of the Stratford Clergy Association responded to the Lord’s call to provide hot meals for the hungry and homeless in Stratford, since there were no soup kitchens in Stratford at the time. F Paul Kurmay, a Deacon at St. Mark’s Catholic Church and a longstanding member of the Association, was tasked with putting a program together. The Association decided to name the new program “The Lord’s Kitchen,” because they believed it would be the Lord Himself who would serve the poor through the ministry of each serving church. Paul became the Chairman of the Lord’s Kitchen Committee and the coordinator of the program, in which he has served since then.
The first hot meal (a hot lunch) was served initially at the First Baptist Church of Stratford on a snowy winter day, January 5 th, 2011. Only a handful of guests arrived in several inches of snow, including an older gent who bicycled from a half mile away. “We had no idea who would show up for our first meal, especially in a snow storm” Paul said, “but we were determined to launch our new outreach program no matter what. Word spread quickly and, before you knew it, scores of hungry souls were showing up for dinner each week.” The original Church volunteers came from First Baptist Church, St. Mark Church, First Congregational Church, St. James Church, St. John’s Orthodox Church, Christ Episcopal Church and St. Joseph’s National Catholic Church.
In the beginning, only one meal was served on the Wednesday of each week, but the program was quickly expanded to include Mondays as well. Also during the first year, it was decided that all meals should be served from the kitchen of Christ Episcopal Church, for two reasons: it was centrally located and secondly, it had a complete, up-to-date kitchen, meeting the requirements of Stratford’s Health Department. Christ Church has served as the host site ever since, considering it a grace and honor to be the place where all God’s children gathered for a hot meal. About the same time, the luncheon meal was replaced by an early evening supper, from 5 to 6 p.m. Each guest was offered a second meal to take home with them for the next day, so that for many they had four meals covered for each week.
Each church or organization brought their own food and prepare it on Christ Church premises. They decide what kind of hot meal to prepare and serve, providing a wide variety of delicious meals. Common commodities like coffee, tea, paper products, to go containers, garbage bags, utensils and the like are provided by the Association or by one or more of its members. In order to defray the high utility costs incurred by Christ Church, the Association provides funding to Christ Church for that purpose. The public, in turn, is asked to support the Association financially as well.
In addition to serving meals, many groups hand out toiletries and other “goodies” on a regular basis. From the very beginning, Brenden and Kim Cortina, owners of Icing on the Cake in Paradise Green, have generously provided our guests with loads and loads of fresh bread of every kind. Each year, St. Mark’s would hold a winter coat drive, offering a hundred or more coats to those who needed one. This year, the Lord’s Kitchen received a generous donation of Bombas socks, with plenty to go around. Every year, just before Christmas, all the Churches and groups pitch in to purchase Walmart or grocery cards to give to each family, along with cookies and other treats. “The Lord’s Kitchen is a family home,” Paul said, “and we treat everyone with love and respect, as if they were our own family members, because, before God, they are.”
As the number of guests grew from a handful to 50 or more, other churches and civic groups were added, now totaling some 16 in number. They include the following additional members: United Methodist Church, Lordship Community Church, Our Lady of Peace Church, Our Lady of Grace Church, Holy Name of Jesus Church, Stratford Baptist Church, the Stratford Rotary Club and members of the Stratford Democratic Town Committee. Connecticut Distributors will prepare its first meal on January 27 of 2021. Some of these Churches have temporarily suspended their commitment due to the Covid19 epidemic but are expected to return soon.
Among those receiving free meals are parents with children of all ages, single and married adults, the homeless, men and women of every race and creed and senior citizens. “Our guests would begin arriving as early as 3 PM so that they could come in from the cold or heat, strike up a game of cards or just chat around the table,” Paul added. “What we cherish about the Lord’s Kitchen is not just that we feed the needy but that we provide a warm, comfortable family setting for all to let their hair down and just be themselves. That’s what we miss most during the current Covid-required lockdown.”
“All are guests are food-deprived and have grown to depend on these weekly meals so that they can pay other necessary living expenses like rent, utilities and medical bills,” Paul said. “Most of us cannot imagine the agony of having to choose between feeding our children or paying the rent. Both are critically important but there’s not enough money coming in to cover both.”
“No one is ever turned away and most leave with an additional meal for the next day. Sadly, the pandemic has forced us to serve to-go meals at the front door of the church hall. Everyone must wear a mask and social distance: all volunteers must wear gloves as well. Everyone misses indoor dining very much. We hope that will change as vaccines become more readily available.”
“Prior to the pandemic, an average of 10,000 meals have been served each year, bringing us close to an incredible 100,000 meals served over the past ten years.
Our numbers are down somewhat now, since many guests have preferred to stay home, but most still come, braving even the chilliest and stormy weather. During the most recent December snow storm, we continued to serve hot pizza at the front door for all those who were brave and hungry enough to come. We simply had to show up. The thought of a child going away hungry that night was just too much to bear.” Paul concluded.
For those wishing to donate to the Lord’s Kitchen, checks should be made payable to the Stratford Clergy Association and mailed to Deacon F. Paul Kurmay, current President and Treasurer of the Association at 45 Alexandra Drive, Stratford, 06614.