Celebrating PrincetonUMC’s Larry — and Cornerstone Community Kitchen

 

Seven Junes ago, Larry Apperson launched Princeton Cornerstone Community Kitchen at Princeton UMC, partnering with the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) to serve over 100 meals weekly, on an unconditional, no-questions asked basis. Larry plants the “Free Meals” banner on the lawn every Wednesday.

Cornerstone Community Kitchen served its first meal on June 6, 2012. Some come for the free food, some for the fellowship, all are graciously served a hot meal complete with a decorated table and a piano player in the background. TASK delivers the main dish but CCK supplies vegetables, salad, bread, and a drink, plus sandwiches, children’s breakfast bags, and produce to take home.

For the first two years meals were served on paper plates with plastic utensils in the Sanford Davis Room, the church “parlor” with stained glass windows, because the kitchen — which did not meet health codes — was being constructed. Now the meals are prepared in an up-too-date catering kitchen and served on china plates in the renovated Fellowship Hall. 

“The greatest unexpected pleasure that’s come from our service has been the coming together of people from throughout the community to serve,” says Larry Apperson. Five teams from Princeton United Methodist Church alternate serving the meals, one week a month.

Now, each week,  Cornerstone’s opening on Wednesday night and its related offerings depend on some 30 volunteers and approximately 75 hours of volunteer time.

Cleanup is done almost exclusively by church members. Every week PUMC member jobs include playing the piano, setting and decorating tables, running the clothes closet, and washing the pots. One school-age girl helps, with her grandmother, before and after her PUMC choir practice. Judy Miller works Tuesday and Wednesdays — she runs the Clothes Closet with the help of two PUMC volunteers. She also decorates the tables with flowers and props from her personal trove.

Community members can also sign up online for ‘one-time’ service. “I wanted to create a place where people could go to do the good things they deep down feel they should be doing anyway,” says Apperson. “Volunteering would be easy, no homework, just come and do it.”

PUMC members supporting CCK include Pam and Tim Ewer, Charles Phillips, Karen Longo-Baldwin, Karin and Bernhard Brouwer (just moved to Florida), Susan Davelman, Joan and Bob Nuse, Judy Miller, Ed Sproles, Lula Crawford, Francia Francisco, Doug Fullman, Larry and Emily Gordinier, Lori Pantaleo, Valerie Newhall, Lorie Roth, Yvonne Macdonald, Joan Klass, Larry and Helen Curtis, Karen Johnson, Bruce Henry, Chris Cox, Kate Lasko, Ichen Mei, and some young new arrivals, Alex and Izzy DiStase.

In addition, the Clothing Store operates in a spacious, dedicated room and shares the same Wednesday 5 – 6:30 PM hours of operation.  Supervised by Judy Miller, the store is filled with a wide variety of neatly organized and displayed clothing and household items, where guests take turns shopping in small groups. Store volunteers manage seasonal programs for the children — selecting back to school backpacks, Halloween costumes, and Christmas gifts – carefully selected to match the child’s age and gender.

A significant number of the guests are Hispanic and some speak little if any English. Three years ago, PrincetonUMC member Karen Longo Baldwin, a certified ESL teacher, began teaching English as a Second Language classes that now meet four times weekly.

Judy Miller at the launch of the Period Project

Cornerstone’s newest offering is Princeton Period Project, a community program to help girls and women who don’t have an easy, reliable, affordable access to feminine hygiene products.  These products often take second seat to providing food at the family table. “We have already provided more than 51,000 feminine hygiene products to girls and women in the area,” says Gil Gordon, a member of the Jewish Center of Princeton and member of the board.

Judy Miller, Gil Gordon, and Larry Apperson at the TASK awards.

Earlier this year, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) presented Larry Apperson with the Chuck Inman Memorial Award, honoring an individual who has made a significant impact in feeding hungry people in Mercer County.

Pastor Ginny Cetuk, who chairs the CCK board, points out that — for a  minimum wage job in Mercer County, one would need to work 130 hours per week in order to make ends meet.

As a 501c3 nonprofit organization, Cornerstone does not aim to deliver a religious message. “We are witnessing to our faith through our actions,” says Larry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cornerstone Kitchen: New Year’s Eve @ 1 pm

Annette Ransom Judith MillerWest Windsor Plainsboro News, the biweekly paper, celebrated Cornerstone Community Kitchen volunteers Annette Ransom (left in this WWP photo), Judy Miller (on the right) and Chris Orsini (pictured below, in action, wrapping take-home meals).

In the article, published on December 19 and distributed to every home in West Windsor and Plainsboro, reporter Lynn Miller quotes CCK’s founder:

“The greatest unexpected pleasure that’s come from our service has been the coming together of people from throughout the community to serve,” says Larry Apperson, founder of the project.

DSCF8057Thanks to all the volunteers who help Cornerstone Community Kitchen, to partner with TASK to serve meals every  Wednesday since June 6, 2012. This year, it will offer its New Year’s Eve meal at a different time — 1 to 2:30 p.m.

 

 

TASK’s Dennis Micai: Good Report Card

Originally posted on Princeton Comment.

PUMC Cornerstone Community Kitchen Grand Opening
L-R Howard Roundtree, Dennis Micai, Pastor Jana Purkis-Brash, and Larry Apperson

 The Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) gets four stars on the report card provided by  Charity Navigator; it earns 69.13 points out of 70. So Dennis Micai, executive director of TASK, will be able to share that good news at a breakfast at Princeton United Methodist Church (PUMC), Nassau and Vandeventer, on Sunday, January 13 at 8 a.m.

Princeton Cornerstone Community Kitchen MealPUMC volunteers have been serving at TASK in Trenton for two decades, but last June the church and TASK began a new partnership to serve meals in Princeton to more than 50 people every Wednesday. Some come for the food, some for the fellowship, and dozens of volunteers from both the church and the community are helping. TASK cooks most of the meals but outside organizations (the restaurant Zorba’s Brother cooked a turkey dinner last month) have also contributed. TASK has a similar partnership in Hightstown.

TASK offers lots of ways to contribute. So although hunger is a growing problem, Micai will have some good news stories to tell. The breakfast is catered by the United Methodist Men, and all are invited. (Reserve at 609-924-2613 or UMM@princetonumc.org). It will be good to hear some good news for 2013.

TASK has had the four star rating, by the way, for seven consecutive years.

 

Peter Brown: The Church as “Social Urban Lung”

Peter Brown Speaking at Labyrinth Bookstore

Originally posted on Princeton Comment.

Diversity is much prized by some Christian congregations, but in recent history it hasn’t always been this way. Churches have been historically the most segregated, divisive groups in America. But in Rome in the period of late antiquity, in the period from the 2nd to the 8th centuries, says Peter Brown, the church promoted the value of diversity.

In a conversation between Brown and Elaine Pagels at Labyrinth Bookstore on Wednesday night. Brown and Pagels discussed Brown’s new Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, published by Princeton University Press. Brown cautioned against “pauperizing” the poor, thinking of poor people as … simply … poor.

Quickly scanning his book, I found Brown’s observation that, in the Hebrew tradition, the poor were not merely beggars: They came to the rich and religious leaders to seek justice and protection. Brown writes (page 77) that the early Christian church viewed the poor, not as ‘the others” but as “our brothers.” (Ironically that is even more true today now that folks who thought they could live in comfort now find themselves in foreclosures. In Princeton there are hidden pockets of need in the most affluent-seeming homes.)

Brown writes (page 87) that wealthy people “valued in the churches a certain lowering of the sense of hierarchy and a slowing down of the pace of competition.” (Just two days before, this is what Roberto Schiraldi seemed to be calling for, when he led a Not in Our Town discussion on the values of “white privilege” at the Princeton Public Library.)

Continues Brown, “Members of the rich often came to the church so as to find there a social urban lung.” That term, social urban lung, describes a place like the Princeton Public Library, which harbored refugees from the power outage, some poor, some wealthy, all equal as they needed warmth and plug-ins. It also describes the house of worship where people can drop their pretensions or inadequacies and “love their neighbor as themselves.’

It  has resonance to see what I see happening in my own church, where at the very hour Peter Brown was speaking, the Cornerstone Community Kitchen was serving dinner to a wide variety of people — some who needed the food, some who just wanted to mingle, some who just wanted to “give back” by helping. The good part is, you don’t need to know — and it isn’t visible  — to which group a person belongs.

P.S. Come out some Wednesday for the free meal, served in partnership with the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen but definitely not in a soup kitchen atmosphere. You are served by volunteers at an elegantly dressed table (at right), and the meal includes fresh vegetables, salad, and dessert, and there’s even a piano player. It’s every Wednesday, 5 to 6:30, at the Methodist church at the corner of Nassau and Vandeventer, all welcome.

I love Brown’s term, “a social urban lung.”

 

Stoolmacher: Hunger’s Not a Game

Written by Barbara Fox

Feeding the hungry — that doesn’t sound like a fun topic, one that you would like to contemplate over a meal. But at the United Methodist Men’s breakfast at our church on October 14, Phyllis Stoolmacher  quoted poignant stats like a politician, dispensed the folk wisdom with the aplomb of a culinary Dr. Ruth, and inspired like a preacher.

Stoolmacher has been the forever-director of the 25-year- old Mercer Street Friends Food Bank, which  distributes 50,000 pounds of food a week to some 60 organizations to help feed 25,000 people in Mercer County who don’t have access to enough healthy food.

Some at the breakfast had just taken the food stamp challenge, to live for a week on the meagre amount provided by what is now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). And the 25-year-old food bank partners with the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen which in turns partners with our church to deliver a weekly Wednesday meal at the Cornerstone Community Kitchen.

I learned new facts and confirmed what I already knew. Federal contribution of commodities has been cut by two-thirds. A family of four can qualify for SNAP if the household income is less than $23,500, and this number does not account for the high cost of living in Mercer County. “It’s not a welfare program,” says Stoolmacher, “and we send our people out into the community with laptops to help people qualify.” Nutrition dollars come on a debit card so nobody can tell whether someone is swiping a credit card or the SNAP card. People stay on SNAP for an average of 9 months.

Restaurants can’t donate because of health issues. Supermarkets do donate, but not prepared food. The state provides funds to buy Jersey Fresh fruits and vegetables. Children who would otherwise go hungry on weekends get sent home with a backpack of easy-to-prepare microwavable meals. Simple recipes go into regular bags of groceries.

It’s best to give dollars rather than canned goods because the food bank can buy in bulk. “You would be surprised at what comes from food drives,” she said wryly, “how much cranberry sauce we get at Thanksgiving and how much matzoh we get in April. Who likes  matzoh? I want tuna fish! Give me tuna fish and I am a happy camper.”

What else can we do? Realize that someone you know may be “nutritionally challenged.” Encourage somebody who is looking for work, maybe they’ve run out of unemployment benefits, to sign up for the SNAP program. Or bring them to our Cornerstone Community Kitchen on Wednesdays, from 5 to 6:30 p.m.  Nobody knows the difference between the people who come for nutrition or those who come for conversation and companionship. There’s plenty of food on the plates, and there are flowers on the tables.

Some of that food found its way to Princeton via Stoolmacher. She won’t countenance empty or unhealthy calories — not soda, not Gatorade, not ramen noodles, not sweet cereal. Besides tuna fish, her most coveted item is shelf stable milk-in-a-box. “It tastes like real milk.”

At the next United Methodist Men’s breakfast, Sunday, November 11 at 8 a.m., PUMC church member Ed Felten will be the speaker. Reservations at office@princetonumc.com, $5.00.

A version of this post was published on the Princeton Comment blog