Making lunch

As recently enacted community kitchen restrictions have grabbed the attention of various news outlets, a local founder of the group that represents charitable kitchens is urging a greater focus on fundamental shifts in poverty, homelessness and mental illness instead.

“The flaw is that the city is kind of playing up that it’s the community kitchens that bring in the homeless and there’s no proof of that,” said Roger Gilbert, the founder and director of Brooking’s Community Kitchens - a non-profit collective of several local churches.

Gilbert said in order to understand why benevolent kitchens are so hotly debated - it’s important to understand why they began. In 2006, Gilbert moved to Brookings with his wife. Decades removed from the Vietnam War, Gilbert noticed a couple of years later that disabled and traumatized veterans were abundant.

“I started talking to people on the street and many were Vietnam vets like myself,” he said. “Vets who put their life on the line for their country were sleeping on benches and eating out of dumpsters. That's when we decided to open the first community kitchen.”

In 2009 and with $400 in seed money, Brookings Seventh Day Adventist Church started preparing and handing out food on Mondays.

“Other churches said ‘Wow, that looks like a good ministry,’” Gilbert said.

Within a year’s time, St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church opened its kitchen on Tuesdays, then in 2011 Brookings Presbyterian, Star of the Sea Catholic Church and Trinity Lutheran opened their kitchens - taking Wednesday through Friday. Even the Brookings-Harbor School District wanted to participate.

“That was interesting because I was called to a board meeting by the superintendent of the school district,” Gilbert said. Apparently, it wasn’t just vets who were hungry. Kids were, too. “He said ‘You know Roger, we have kids coming off the bus on Monday and they haven’t had a good meal all weekend,’” Gilbert said.

Gilbert organized school pantries - stocked with apples, oranges and nuts that students could grab before heading to the classroom. It wasn’t long after that one of the schools opened its cafeteria to allow Seventh Day Adventist to make hot meals on Saturdays - a venture where students volunteered as greeters, some were taught how to cook and those close to graduation could earn their senior project service points.

“Everyone was deriving benefits,” Gilbert said. “Two of the students even went on to culinary school.

”But as the seasons changed, so did the perception of the community kitchen landscape. A change in school administrative leadership led to a decision to no longer allow the church to use the school’s kitchen. That’s when Father Bernie Lindley with St. Timothy’s picked up Saturday, and eventually Sunday with a limited offering of a to-go sack lunch.

According to Gilbert, Brookings Presbyterian was steadfast with its Thursday afternoon meal service - including over the last two years “when the pandemic just took the bottom out of what we were doing,” Gilbert said.

Though Brookings Presbyterian’s numbers aren’t what they were pre-pandemic, when nearly 90 people would sit down with hot plates of food before them, they still provide anywhere from 40 to 55 to-go meals each week. Volunteers Jean Shadel, Carol King, Dave Chesson and others arrive as early as 8:30 a.m. to make it all possible. Gilbert said they have strict behavior policies at the Presbyterian church. In fact, they logged only 13 police dispatch calls in 2020, which was the lowest rate of any of their benevolent kitchen counterparts.

St. Timothy’s was not so lucky. It logged 154. Which is why, in late October, the Brookings City Council voted to limit the number of days and hours a church may prepare and distribute food.

As observers wait to see whether the city will impose fines against St. Timothy’s or the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon will file a lawsuit in response, others are wondering if the true problem lies elsewhere.

“They are just looking at the symptom and not the root cause,” said Bill Waddle, a benevolent kitchen volunteer and former Curry County commissioner. “When I got here, 40% to 45% of all parents in Curry County had a history of drug or alcohol abuse. That is a terrible statistic and I dare say that hasn’t changed.”

Gilbert, who said he supports the passage of the ordinance, agreed with Waddle.

“I think it (the ordinance) was a good solution because we can’t deny there have been problems in the neighborhood, but it’s not the fault of the community kitchen,” Gilbert said. “Father Bernie made good strides with eliminating overnight parking at the church, and the city’s police have been able to enforce a 6 p.m. trespass ordinance. But all it did was move people into the forest.”

“When I was in Portland as a commissioner, I briefed the secretary of Agriculture and the next day there was a headline that read ‘Curry County: Poverty With a View,’” Waddle added. “The county has severe monetary and financial problems that we have had since the late 80s when we could no longer raise property taxes to keep up with the cost of administering county services.”

Since then, said Waddle, homelessness has only gotten worse.

“In 2020, there were 14,655 homeless people,” he said. “28% have mental illness, 38% alcohol abuse and 26% drug abuse. What we are not doing, anywhere in the U.S. that I’m aware of, is addressing that issue.”

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(2) comments

Ione Trapp

Just maybe the people who believe in following the "Sermon On The Mount" are feeling pleased that the Brooking Commissioners are investing in bias and illegal actions against St. Timothy's Episcopal Church. These Commissioners are on questionable mission that will probably insure that much needed finances and publicity will pore into St Timothy's from out of our area. St. Timothy's Church will not only survive , but thrive in their Christian Mission.

Proski

The main reason curry county has had so many problems over the last few decades, is because the timber industry was destroyed! Nothing has replaced the capital and all the benefits that come with it. Because of this, the demographics has totally changed here. Now all we have, are well off retirees from elsewhere and all of the poor and poverty stricken from lack of opportunities. Three decades of that and this is what you get.It’s not surprising at all.

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