By Sierra Morrison
Urban poverty is rampant in Camden, N.J. and consequently so is food insecurity for many families.
Helping those face this huger crisis is the Cathedral Kitchen, a non-profit group which opened in 1976 and was formed as a means to help the homeless.
Cathedral Kitchen’s mission statement is “we use food to change lives.”
Cathedral Kitchen serves dinner Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. and lunch on Saturday from noon to 1 p.m. At Cathedral Kitchen there’s no soup line, people are seated and volunteers carry food to the table.
This past Wednesday, approximately 300 people showed up for a soup kitchen style dinner at Cathedral Kitchen on Federal Street. At the end of dinner bags of food were given to those who attended to take with them.
The kitchen served roast chicken with gravy, stuffing, bread, a slice of cake and several different beverages. Helping prepare dinner was executive chef and culinary instructor Jonathan Jernigan. Jernigan has been preparing meals at Cathedral Kitchen for the past 9-1/2 years.
“These are my people, there like family, I love coming to work, I see them on the street,” said Jernigan. “The people love my food, I’m like Michael Jackson in Camden, people love the food, they know we put a lot of love into our food, this is the only thing that people might eat that day so I try to make it the best meal they possibly can have.”
Volunteering at today’s meal service was a group of students from Saint Augusta Preparatory School from Vineland, N.J. led by Brother David Graber.
“This is our 28th year of volunteering here at Cathedral Kitchen,” said Graber.
For Graber and his students it’s about helping those in need. Prior to opening the Cathedral Kitchen’s doors for today’s dinner service, Graber led prayer, thanking those that donated, volunteers and asked God to oversee the well-being of those in need.
On average Cathedral Kitchen sees about 20 volunteers each night.
Overseeing today’s dinner service was meal captain John Tulane who’s been volunteering at Cathedral Kitchen since 2005. Tualane’s responsibilities include overseeing new volunteers.
“I get enjoyment coming up here, helping those less fortunate than us, it’s really nice hearing people say, ‘thank you, God bless you,’ they really appreciate what we do for them, providing them with a nice dinner meal, ” said Taulane.
Present for dinner service was “Ma,” who requested that her real name not be used. “Ma” is on a fixed income and faces food insecurity.
I’ve been coming here for about 2 years,” said “Ma.” “What I like about Cathedral kitchen is how they treat me and they treat me very well.”
“Ma” expressed her gratitude to Cathedral Kitchen and the services they provide.
Aside from providing food, Cathedral Kitchen provides other services free of charge.
Cathedral Kitchen has a health center, a Culinary Arts and Baking Arts Training Program, a case manager and a dental clinic.
“Those coming in to use the dental clinic aren’t those who need dental cleaning but tooth removal,” said Alex Willis, Community Relations Director.
Cathedral Kitchen’s health clinic provides health screenings, health education, flu vaccines and has podiatrists. Podiatrists are needed because many of Cathedral Kitchen’s guests travel by foot and suffer from diabetes.
Cathedral Kitchen’s Culinary Arts and Baking Arts Training Program is a 17-week class, held twice a year, enrolling about 60 students. 80 percent of graduates find employment three months after graduating.
Also, Cathedral Kitchen has a café located one building over and is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. selling hot and cold sandwiches, salads, sides, soups, desserts and drinks. All profit from the café helps Cathedral Kitchen.
Cathedral Kitchen is located at 1514 Federal Street, Camden, N.J. 08105. Those wanting to donate food, money or volunteer should call 856-964-6771.