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Churches: Father Pat’s Kitchen serves 100,000 meals – all without stigma
By Jason Lesley
When Delisa Baucom lost her job at a music store a few years ago, she knew she would have to manage her expenses more carefully. She counted the free lunches on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and breakfast on Saturdays at Father Pat’s Lunch Kitchen at Precious Blood of Christ Catholic Church among her blessings.
“I was a little apprehensive when I first came,” Baucom said. “It was an odd feeling to hit hard times and can’t cover everything, you know?”
Baucom, who lives off Blockade Drive between the Pawleys Island causeways, has made friends with the lunch kitchen clientele and says she enjoys the fellowship as much as the food. When she and Debbie Scott arrived last week, Baucom insisted her friend go first. That gesture made it a day to remember. The Rev. Patrick Stenson, who founded the kitchen in 2007, approached Baucom and asked her to step out of line. She got the 100,000th meal served at the church since Walter Joseph ate the first meal almost nine years ago. Stenson presented her with a $50 grocery store gift card.
“It was a big surprise,” Baucom said. “It caught me totally off guard. This is a good program for the community.” Father Pat’s serves all sorts of people: working and unemployed, retired and disabled. Some ride in on bicycles, and others walk. Residents of St. Elizabeth Place, a community of affordable housing at Holy Cross-Faith Memorial Episcopal Church, usually carpool.
There’s no stigma to eating the free lunch, Baucom said. That’s because of the welcoming volunteers from the church and Father Pat’s charitable nature. On the day it opened, the kitchen served four people. Stenson approached it as he usually does, saying, “When the teacher is ready, the students will come.” Word of mouth brought about 20 to the next meal. Now there are usually over 100 served, according to Sabrina Lampe, the volunteer coordinator.
Richard Duff has cooked most of the meals served over the years. He learned to cook in the Marine Corps. When he retired from the military, he became head of food and nutrition at Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington, D.C., where he served 30,000 meals a month.
Father Pat’s Lunch Kitchen started slowly and has grown, Duff said. “In the beginning, we were only feeding five to 15 people,” he said. “We’d sit out there and read the newspaper. Now it’s a full day.”
He cooks Wednesday’s hot lunch and preps lighter fare for Thursday. This week he served baked ham and mustard sauce with grilled pineapple, scalloped potatoes, savory green beans, sauerkraut and buttermilk biscuits. He planned cheeseburger soup for today’s lunch.
Duff said there are no leftovers because he cooks in small batches. Wednesday’s ham trimmings will go into ham and cheese omelets next week. There’s always plenty. “No one has ever been told we’re short of meat today so we’re down to peanut butter sandwiches,” Duff said.
Stenson insisted on starting the lunch program when the church finished its new Parish Life Center and was looking for a use for the old Founder’s Hall. Originally called the Pawleys Island Lunch Kitchen at Precious Blood of Christ, the kitchen was renamed to honor Stenson, who says a blessing before meals are served. The program is funded by donations and proceeds from the church’s annual Taste of Pawleys event. Grocery stores donate food regularly, and diners can leave with a bag of items for home.
The meal program at Precious Blood of Christ isn’t the only one in the area. Pawleys Island Presbyterian Church, All Saints, St. Paul Waccamaw United Methodist and St. Peter’s Lutheran provide free meals to anyone on a regular schedule.