This week’s “Bigger Picture” profiles Sarah Hoffman, who was hired recently to oversee and manage Gleaners Community Kitchen. It has been feeding the hungry in Canandaigua for 35 years. Oddly for a guy who gets around quite a bit (me), it wasn’t until only a few weeks ago I became aware of its existence.
There is a fairly good reason. For many years, the Finger Lakes Times dipped its toes into the Canandaigua area for news and sports only occasionally. Things have changed, though, and we are doing a bit more Canandaigua-related sports, news and feature stories.
Folks there are noticing. Even at Gleaners Community Kitchen, three volunteers told me they were new Times subscribers. To them and others, thank you. I love being a photojournalist and appreciate every reader, new and long term.
Back to Gleaners, though. Its mission is to serve healthy meals, free of charge, to those in need — no questions asked. No one is denied.
On their first day back in 1987, three meals were served. Now, about 55 meals are handed out every day and more than 12,000 annually. While many may think of Canandaigua as a fairly well-off community, the reality is that poverty exists everywhere in America, even in “The Chosen Spot.”
Sarah has about 50 volunteers working there. Teams of five or six cook, rotating days. Others transport people to and from the kitchen, which is in the rear section of St. John’s Episcopal Church on Main Street. The church is very supportive of the kitchen, not only by providing space, but through many members of its congregation donating canned and boxed goods — and one member who supplies Wegmans gift cards.
Sarah, 25, is a graduate of Waterloo High School and has experience in the restaurant business, honing her skills at Café XIX in Seneca Falls for six years. She appreciates the mentoring received there, along with what she learned from the Finger Lakes Community College Culinary Arts program, where she earned an associate degree.
However, unlike Café XIX, where Sarah was a chef/cook, Gleaners is strictly volunteers. Her role is, in part, to work to expand the program through grant writing, manage the kitchen, increase its social media presence, and perform administrative duties. She does guide the volunteers in making sure the menu provides a balanced and healthier offering. And, quite possibly one of her biggest contributions has been showing volunteers how to create meals that are more enjoyable flavor-wise to the palate.
As an example, this is what was served Monday: Chicken bacon ranch casserole made with marinated chicken breasts with chopped bacon, and rice and covered with cheddar cheese. It was served with a fiesta corn salad and a selection of desserts.
The weekly menu is dictated by the food that is donated — and when it comes to donations, the Canandaigua community really steps up. Wegmans supplies fresh fruits and vegetables, prepared meals, and bread products. Tops donates pastry and bread products. Starbucks gives packaged pastries. The First Congregational church, Kiwanis, Rotary, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and Canandaigua Middle School students contribute too. Gleaners Kitchen has a membership with Foodlink as well.
Some local residents donate money instead of canned or boxed items. Money helps to purchase things such as milk items, fish, and meat products that aren’t donated.
The reality, though, is that supplies get depleted. To help with that, a vegetable garden exists on-site, adjacent to the kitchen and tended to by volunteers.
A table is located in the dining room with bread items that people are welcome to take home.
The Gleaners Community Kitchen is not just a meal. The older and lonely embrace the daily social interaction. Volunteers start their work at 8:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, but don’t serve food until noon. However, during that time the dining room is open and people are welcome to come in, drink coffee, and converse with one another.
Though only employed at Gleaners for a short time, Sarah finds the experience “awesome” and really feels her life now has a sense of purpose helping others. She looks forward to doing her part to try and make a difference in other people’s lives — one meal at a time.
To find out more information, to donate, or to enjoy a free meal, call 585-394-4818 or email email@example.com.