Jolene, James, Mellanie and Issabella Vermaak manning Sylvia’s Farm Fresh Produce stand at the Farmer’s Market at the Grange in Harbor Wednesday.
Issabella Vermaak loaded handfuls of string beans, piles of tomatoes, a head of cabbage and a few bunches of green onions into a bin, leftovers from her family’s sales at Wednesday’s Farmer’s Market at the Chetco Grange in Harbor.
The eighth-grader, her brother James, sister Jolene and mother Mellanie, were stacking the organic food for the Brookings Presbyterian Church to become part of the free lunch served from 12 to 1 p.m. each Thursday. Their organic food stand, Sylvia’s Farm Fresh Produce, joins Cron Produce of Kerby and soon, Kathryn’s Cookies, Cakes and Candies of Brookings in such donations.
Stews, salads, sandwiches and much more are prepared at one of five locations in Brookings every day of the week. The lunches were initially borne out of a perceived need to feed hungry Vietnam veterans in town, but have grown to become community get-togethers.
“If it wasn’t for these people, I wouldn’t be eating today,” said a homeless man in March, who wished to remain anonymous. “This is a good place. These are good people.”
To Roger Gilbert, who helped start Community Kitchens in 2009, that is the best compliment he can receive.
“I well up with tears of joy; it’s a dream come true,” he said. “What started out as an effort to help the homeless Vietnam veterans has truly become a community kitchen.”
The Vermaaks inadvertently became involved when they came to the United States from South Africa a year ago to visit family.
They never left. And when Mellanie’s sister Sylvia had to leave — right before the summer fruit and vegetable season — to take care of an ailing friend in Australia, the rest of the family jumped in to run her booth.
Sales are good at the farmer’s market (10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays), but there are sometimes extra items. This week it was kale, red onions, red peppers, pineapple tomatoes, carrots and fingerling potatoes.
The food from there and other places in town are taken to one of the churches where a crew of eight to 15 volunteers cook and serve healthy meals to throngs of people.
It’s paid off, too: In 2012, for example, the kitchen at St. Timothy’s, on Tuesdays, served 4,688 meals at a cost of 77 cents per meal.
The other churches each serve an average of 50 to 75 people.
Gilbert said St. Timothy’s gets the largest attendance because the church also offers a free medical clinic right after the lunch.
“All are welcome — hungry, down on your luck, lonely,” said Diane Rowley, who is active in the Presbyterian church lunches.
Many people who eat at the kitchens donate $1 to $5 per meal.
“I’d rather spend my money here than at a restaurant,” said Joseph Williams, eating at the Presbyterian church. “It costs less, the food is always great and it’s for a good cause.”
The Vermaak’s enjoy their contribution to the effort as well.
“This is such a beautiful community,” Mellanie said. “Everyone is so nice, so giving. We just love it here.”