When Kalamazoo Pastor William Stein saw a need arise seven years ago to give food to a population that wasn’t always guaranteed a home-cooked dinner, he and his two co-founders Damon Stallworth and Joan Lafayette came together to create a soup kitchen that would provide just that.
“There were no programs in Battle Creek at the time that were serving five nights a week to the general public,” Stein said.
Although there was a homeless shelter in Battle Creek, Michigan, those seeking meals from it had to be a member of the shelter. Stein saw this as an opportunity to open the doors of First Baptist Church to the public five nights a week with an open invitation for dinner.
“There was no income requirement to participate, although our primary group of dinner guests would be low-income, elderly, disabled, veterans—that kind of thing,” Stein said.
While in Battle Creek, God’s Kitchen served out of multiple sites to address the needs of the consumer, including veteran and senior housing complexes. However, a few years in, Stein and his co-founders decided that a need was arising in Kalamazoo, and chose to move the organization to the First Baptist Church at 315 W. Michigan Ave.
“Every week, we see more people coming down to partake of the resources that we serve,” Stein said. “We primarily see the homeless that live in or around Bronson Park.”
Due to their religious nature, God's Kitchen is not a government subsidized soup kitchen. Although they had to resort to serving two times a week because resources are limited, every Wednesday and Friday evening from 4:30-6:30 p.m. the narrow hallway leading to the kitchen fills and overflows with people greeting each other talking excitedly about which of the two meal options they’ll eat that night.
“It’s a blessing,” Shely, a homeless woman who started eating at God’s Kitchen recently, said. “A lot of people wouldn’t be able to eat without it.”
Each week, Stein goes shopping for the food that is needed with Joan Lafayette, who is also his mother. Lafayette is a retired nutrition food supervisor from the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center in Battle Creek and helps with the meal plan for the week.
Apart from holiday meals, God’s Kitchen serves in a to-go carryout fashion currently. Their ultimate goal is to send out a fleet of 12 mobile soup kitchen food trucks to deliver meals five days a week year round, four of which would be designated to the Kalamazoo area.
“We’ll be able to have a greater impact because we’ll be taking the resources to the neighborhoods rather than having them come to the central city,” Stein said. “A lack of affordable, accessible transportation is one reason why some of these people aren’t getting all the resources that they need. Christ took his ministry to the people, he didn’t wait for the people to come to him.”
God’s Kitchen launched their fundraising campaign for these trucks, entitled Bronco’s Kitchen, during summer of 2017. According to Stein, each food truck will cost $165,000 because they will be custom made.
“We thought about buying used trucks, but because of the amount of use that we’re going to get out of the food trucks, my board felt it necessary to acquire brand new units that will have all the provisions that we need,” Stein said.
These provisions will include two fryers on board each truck, a six-burner stove with both a conventional and convection oven, a commercial refrigerator and freezer, a three-compartment sink that is required by law, a separate hand-washing sink and storage space for anything extra needed to make and serve the food. The food trucks will serve every day unless there is inclement weather for the sake of those waiting in line. God’s Kitchen is currently fundraising $3,000 with the hopes of getting their first truck on the road by spring of 2018.
As a part of Bronco’s Kitchen, the Kalamazoo fleet will also work to serve food on and off campus at Western Michigan University, specifically to the neighborhoods students live in.
“We’ve learned through research that there is a large number of students that don’t have resources,” Stein said.
For those who have no plans or means to make any, God’s Kitchen will be hosting a pre-Thanksgiving dinner on Nov. 22 at First Baptist Church, and a Christmas dinner on Dec. 20. They are hoping to host the Christmas dinner at one of the local high schools in the area. There will be a Santa and Mrs. Claus present, and toys will be distributed to the children who come via a Toys for Tots distributor.
“(For Christmas) we’ve always served honey-glazed, spiral-sliced ham, baked chicken and steak,” Stein said. “We also have mashed potatoes, cheesy broccoli, dinner rolls, and we always serve pies courtesy of Sam’s Club.”
For those who want to help put meals in front of the population in need, they can donate in a few different ways: donate to Bronco’s Kitchen food trucks at www.youcaring.com/broncoskitchen-955940, donate to the Holiday dinner fund at www.youcaring.com/hungryhomelessandneedykalamazoocitizens-981993, write a check to God’s Kitchen, or download the donation form off of www.godskitchenofmichigan.org and fill it out that way.
There is also a volunteer application on the website for those who can give their time. God’s Kitchen also can utilize gift cards to any of their four sponsors: Walmart, Sam’s Club, Meijer and Gordon’s Food Service. Making each meal costs roughly $500, so each donation makes a difference.
Those seeking to contact God’s Kitchen with further questions can do so by visiting their Facebook page "God’s Kitchen of MI" or by calling at (269) 615-8080 any time except for 2-4:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays.
“I’m thrilled, as is my board, to see that we’ve accomplished this feat,” Stein said. “We’ve served over 113,000 meals in the 6 years that we’ve operated. We’re faithful in that the community will rally around God’s Kitchen so that we can return to our five-night format and continue to address the needs of many of the people here.”