They come by the hundreds, these people down on their luck. They arrive at Shove Memorial Chapel knowing they’ll get a hot meal and a warm welcome. That’s happened every single Sunday at the CC Community Kitchen — for 20 years.
On a recent Sunday, the chapel’s basement was syncopated pandemonium, with students carrying in food, music blasting, and aromas wafting from the kitchen.
Outside, people — mostly men with sad eyes — talk with volunteers or pour coffee. Here, they’re called “guests.” And that’s how they’re treated: valued guests who are treated with respect. No questions asked, other than “How are you today?”
“If someone showed up at your house, you’d give them some food and something to drink, you’d sit down and talk with them. That’s how we like to think of it,” said Colin McCarey ’12, one of the kitchen’s current managers.
He’s among a long line of CC students who see the kitchen as vital to their lives and education.
In 1992, a handful of students realized that the homeless in Colorado Springs could not find hot meals on Sundays, when the Marian House soup kitchen, located downtown, was closed for cleaning.
“They came and said, ‘Bruce, you’re always saying that good service is about mutuality. It’s not about us trying to fix things, it’s about us doing things for other people, it’s about mutual learning and relationships,’ which I really agree with,” recalled CC’s chaplain, Bruce Coriell.
The students wanted to start a community kitchen on campus. Coriell, CC’s chaplain since 1988, was skeptical, saying that students couldn’t start feeding people and then leave for summer vacation.
A few weeks later, the students returned with a plan to recruit supporters from Colorado Springs and the homeless community. Coriell gave his blessing to the project, which hadn’t found a home elsewhere on campus due to concerns about safety.
“I always said, and I still think to this day, the kitchen makes us more safe, not less safe, because the street community folks think of CC as part of their place,” Coriell said. “It’s not 100 percent of the time, but largely, people think of it as, ‘Don’t mess this place up. This is our place. These are good people, so don’t come here and do something you might somewhere else.’ ”
The chapel has been ideal for this effort, he said. “When I got here, the chapel was not an open, welcoming place,” Coriell said. “We started opening it up and inviting in the community in a variety of ways, and it brought a kind of vitality and life to this place.”
The basement has evolved to meet the needs. At first, it was “abysmal,” he said. The main room was a lecture hall with bolted-down seats.
“People would come to the door, they’d stop at the kitchen, they’d get some food, then they’d sit in these seats, all facing the same way, lecture-style. It really wasn’t great, but it was what we had.”
The seats are gone and that room is used for sorting food before it’s taken out to serving tables just east of the chapel. Even in bad weather, the guests prefer eating outside.
Becky Manchester Aidlberg ’95 was there at the beginning.
“We were so excited that we made it happen and that it was becoming such an amazing experience for both the students who helped and the people who came to eat at the community kitchen,” Aidlberg emailed from her California home. “It wasn’t only about food, although this was certainly a huge need in the community. Friendly relationships grew between the regular visitors and the students, and we learned a lot about each other and from each other.”
Early on, they served defrosted leftovers from the campus food-service company. Sometimes, volunteers arrived to find there were no leftovers, and everyone would chip in for pizza.
Partnerships have been forged with food suppliers, including La Baguette, Whole Foods, Care and Share, Bon Appétit and, in the summer, Miller Farms. Staples such as dry pasta and canned beans are stockpiled, but menus are planned when the donated food arrives.
Volunteers come from the community at large, along with high schools, youth groups, Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts, and the Air Force Academy.
Annette Daymon, a community member who is on medication for physical ailments, said that volunteering at the kitchen helps her count her blessings.
“People say, ‘How can that cheer you up to go to a soup kitchen?’ I see these guys who haven’t got anything. You give them something like a candy bar and they get so excited. It brings you back – ‘what am I whining about?’ ”
During her 10-plus years of volunteering, Daymon has seen many changes as new students contribute fresh ideas to improve the operation.
The tiny kitchen received a makeover in 2010, with additions including two freezers, two refrigerators, a commercial dishwasher, a microwave, and two heavy-duty food disposals. McCarey is especially excited about the water heater — no more running out of hot water during cleanup.
He loves to cook, but now the kitchen is filled with volunteers wielding spatulas and ladles, so he’ll grab a cup of coffee and sit down to talk with guests.
“I can’t imagine another situation where students would be trusted with the responsibility to coordinate volunteers, to coordinate budget, to coordinate donations,” McCarey said. “Having that kind of responsibility can be very stressful, but also it gives exposure to situations you wouldn’t encounter otherwise. It gives you a view for how the world is bigger than college, bigger than Colorado College and the things I can do on campus.”
Aidlberg agrees: “It taught me that it is possible to see a solution to a problem, and to move mountains to make that solution happen. Colorado College was, and probably still is, a safe place to take risks and make mistakes. This kind of atmosphere is fertile ground for young leaders trying to find their style, recognize their strengths, and improve upon their weaknesses. Administrators and fellow volunteers gave us room to experiment, fail, improve, stretch, fall, and pick ourselves up again.”
Lauren Juskelis ’15 is training to become one of the next managers; she came to the kitchen her first week at CC and got hooked.
“I was very lonely; it was my first time on my own. I think here was the first time I felt like I was at home. I remember calling my mom and telling her, ‘I don’t have a home anymore.’ I felt very homeless and the kitchen just made me — I don’t know, I think it was the community. Everybody was very accepting of everyone.”
Aidlberg has bittersweet feelings about the 20th anniversary.
“I’m sorry to hear that there is still a need for the community kitchen in Colorado Springs, but I’m happy to hear that Colorado College students continue to rally the community to meet that need,” Aidlberg said.
Noon-4 p.m. April 15, meal at 1:30 p.m. Outside Shove Memorial Chapel, 1010 N. Nevada Ave. CC Chaplain Bruce Coriell and co-founder Becky Manchester Aidlberg ’95, spoke at the event.
For information on the CC Community Kitchen, check out a video made by film student Briana Hoy-Skubik ’13.
Other than volunteers – everyone is welcome to stop by – the Community Kitchen needs: aprons, a warming oven and an oven hood; reading material for all ages; hygiene products, including diapers; and candles. To contribute, contact the Center for Service and Learning at firstname.lastname@example.org.