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Community Kitchen marks 30 years of making meals

January 29, 2019

Hot meals served by the helping hands at Community Kitchen have kept the hungry, homeless, handicapped, elderly and working poor of Kalispell fed for 30 years.

Director Naomi Davidson was there in the beginning, sitting around a table at Alliance Church with a group of visionaries on a mission to end hunger in the Kalispell community.

“When I went to that meeting, I realized why I’m in Kalispell, why I was at that church,” she said, “because I knew that God was calling me to that.”

The newly formed Community Kitchen served its first meal in 1989, serving 18 guests.

A year later, Davidson took over the operation as director.

About eight years later, B. Bradford Fenchak and a group of other volunteers approached the Community Kitchen about filling the growing need for additional meals throughout the week.

When Alliance Church found it could give up no more time in its fellowship hall for additional meals, the group founded Feeding the Flathead and began serving food on days when Community Kitchen could not.

In 2003, the two groups joined forces, combining to form a single soup kitchen, which, led by Fenchak and Davidson and staffed by volunteers, could serve from multiple locations several times a week.

Through venue changes, lack of volunteers, lack of food and, at times, lack of optimism over the years, the two women stuck to their guns, returning to the soup kitchen week after week and clinging to their faith that their needs would be met.

“There have been times when all we had was $100 in the bank, and our treasurer was paying our bills out of her pocket,” Davidson said.

Other times, she said, they’ve had to cook and serve meals with only two volunteers.

Over the years, Davidson and Fenchak said the allocation of funding and food from the state has steadily declined, making them more and more reliant on donations from the community.

Fenchak said they used to receive a couple of thousand pounds of food each month, but that amount has decreased to less than 500 pounds in recent months.

But somehow, she said, no one who comes to the Community Kitchen-Feeding the Flathead for a meal ever leaves hungry.

Noting the Bible passage in John 6 when Jesus feeds 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish , Fenchak said she’s seen multiple instances of miraculous modern-day provisions at the soup kitchen.

More than once, she said, she looked at the food she had available, knowing it might feed around half of the people who showed up hungry. However, she said, everyone who came managed to get enough to eat.

“God’s good. He’s provided,” Fenchak said. “There is so little that one person can do to change the world, but God’s given us a gift where we can feed people and show them by the way we feed them that we love them and God loves them.”

Community Kitchen-Feeding the Flathead differs from other soup kitchens in how they serve, by having people come in and sit down to be served a meal rather than waiting in a line.

“A lot of our people have fallen through the cracks, and they’re not treated with respect,” Fenchak said.

Many of those the soup kitchen serves wait in lines several times a week, whether it’s for food stamps, medication, workers’ compensation or other resources.

Davidson and Fenchak said they see people every week who have to choose between transportation and housing, or between the co-pay on their medications and food.

“We serve everybody, everyone who walks in,” Davidson said. “They don’t have to prove they’re poor.”

To those who would argue that some people might take advantage of that policy when they don’t need it, Fenchak said “that’s between them and God.”

“There’s other needs besides being hungry,” Davidson added. “There’s social needs.”

The women said they have seen and continue to seek the improvement of people’s lives through their work.

“There’s a camaraderie that is really important to us as humans, that human contact where we can talk and feel comfortable,” Fenchak said. “We try to aim to make it feel more like they come into our house and sit down at our table and eat.”

Many who come return to help wash dishes or return the next week to help serve food to others out of gratitude.

Between the soup kitchen and the other nonprofits in the community, Fenchak said there is no reason anyone should have to go hungry.

Last year, the soup kitchen served more than 12,000 people.

Both women credited the soup kitchen’s success to the generosity of the Kalispell community.

“It’s amazing how God will bring a bunch of little things together to build a whole,” Fenchak said.

When Davidson took on the directorship of Community Kitchen, she said she was in over her head and had no idea what she was getting into.

“The only thing I could do was cook. I didn’t have the skills to run a soup kitchen,” she said. “Me and the Lord, we made it. I have that satisfaction to know that, for 30 years, I’ve been able to serve the hungry and homeless of Kalispell.”

Fenchak said seeing the impact filling a momentary need like hunger has on the lives of those she’s served over the years has shown her how big of a difference one person can make with a bit of determination and a lot of help.

“You see so much wrong in the world,” she said. “It’s really satisfactory to know that God’s given you the talents to address one of them.”

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.

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