St. George Episcopal Church’s new community kitchen is up and running, expanding service opportunities and providing some much-needed elbow room behind the scenes.
The new kitchen remodel adds new amenities such as commercial ovens, sanitizing and prep sinks, warmers and a larger window. The new walk-in refrigerator was previously an office, and pantry space used to take up one side of the kitchen.
Kitchen staff began using the space this summer and are already seeing the benefits.
“It was really tiny and dark before,” said Kitchen and Meals Coordinator Luz Escalera, recalling the previous kitchen space which was about a third of the current one.
Having more room makes life easier for everyone involved in performing everyday tasks like creating community and preparing meals. “We’re excited to finally have it done,” said Escalera.
To celebrate the remodel, St. George, the Lake County Food Access Coalition and Cloud City Conservation Center (C4) invited the community to an open house on Saturday, Sept. 23 to check out the new space, which has several possibilities for serving the community in new and innovative ways.
“We wanted it to be a community hub and expand on what we were already doing,” said Community Meals Supervisor Amy Frykholm.
In addition to serving community meals four times a week and hosting two on-site food pantries, the Lake County Food Access Coalition is looking at more possibilities for the space, which has already been used to support events like the 2022 C4 Harvest Dinner. On Friday, Sept. 23, volunteers made desserts here, for instance.
The area could potentially serve as a test kitchen for women and minority-owned businesses or become an educational space for things like cooking and public health. It could also be used as a place for canning and freezing food that would normally be thrown away.
The remodel brings more convenience and opportunities for St. George, but volunteers and staff have been making do with much less for years. Even without an official kitchen, volunteers used hot plates to make food for people in need following the mine closure around 30 years ago, said Frykholm.
Around 20 years ago, the church started using an official kitchen, but the need for a remodel became apparent over the last few years.
The project was set in motion back in 2018 when the church was looking for new kitchen cupboards and reached out to Veronica Rimbert of the Leadville Trail 100 Legacy Foundation who had a few available. But when Rimbert came and saw what the church was working with, she saw a need for a remodel beyond just replacing the cupboards. She convened a coalition to design and raise money for the project, which was recently completed by KW Woodworks.
The church received several large grants for the project in the spring of 2019 in additional to individual donations, said Frykholm. Grant funds came from El Pomar, the Gates Family Foundation, the Leadville Trail 100 Legacy Foundation, the Freeport-McMoRan Foundation and the Lake County Community Fund.
With all this help, the $450,000 project seemed to be on its way and St. George was close to its fundraising goal until the pandemic shook things up.
“We suddenly had an explosion of need,” said Frykholm, who remembers the team preparing thousands more pounds of food than was typical. Staff and volunteers could no longer work in the kitchen and just prepared takeaway meals while also trying to navigate the food insecurity issue exacerbated by the pandemic.
Although the project was put on hold for around two years, things started looking up again when the First Presbyterian Church of Leadville inquired about the kitchen remodel’s fundraising status. They ended up bringing in additional funds needed for St. George to meet its goal, and the rest was history.
“We were amazed by the support of the community,” said Frykholm, expressing appreciation for each piece of funding St. George received.
Construction began in the fall of 2021 and lasted for nine months with its own share of challenges.
The team still ran community meals without stopping, even without hot water at times, said Frykholm, crediting the ingenuity of the women in the kitchen.
To adapt, they bought a huge hot water system to use. The dining area became a temporary kitchen, and people ate in the chapel.
With construction complete except for a few final details, kitchen staff and volunteers are looking forward to continuing their work and service.
“Now that it’s done, there’s room for everyone to cook,” said Lisa Morton, a St. George member who helped with remodel planning and demolition of the old kitchen. “There’s enough space to make all the food that we do make and want to make, and it’s beautiful.”
The community kitchen will continue to serve community meals four times a week and host two on-site food pantries as well as one mobile food pantry. The current schedules are printed weekly in the Herald’s Community Calendar.