Once a month on a Tuesday night at Good News Church, a Christian Reformed congregation in London, Ont., more than 250 meals are prepared. But for participants in the Collective Kitchen, it’s not all about the food; it’s about community.
The program, now in its sixth year, hosts 10 people each time to chop vegetables, brown meat, and stir up sauces in order for each to take home 25 single-serving, freezer-ready meals. It’s 25 meals for $25 dollars, explained co-organizer Rev. Kelly Sibthorpe, a CRC chaplain at nearby Fanshawe College. Each evening takes about three-and-a-half hours of participants’ time.
“Our main goal is to provide community,” he said. Participants work together with eight to 10 church volunteers, share a meal halfway through the evening, and give thanks to God for food and friends. “There’s a lot happening during the time that we sit and talk and cut and wash and slice. . . . That’s a really important part of the program,” noted Ruth Jongejan, the other co-organizer.
The program started as a way to serve ‘second-career’ students at Fanshawe. “After the recession of 2008, about 3,000 people lost their jobs in the London area and many ended up at Fanshawe College for retraining,” Sibthorpe shared. On tight budgets and focused on their studies, they often didn’t join the social life of the college. Seeing a need for community and food, Sibthorpe started the Collective Kitchen.
While they have always met at Good News Church, the core group has changed as students graduated and the need shifted. “There’s a big need in east London, particularly among single mothers on very strict fixed incomes, so we began to reach out to the community,” said Sibthorpe.
They now offer childcare to make it easier for single mothers to participate. “We’re almost bursting at the seams; every time this year, we’ve had our maximum of 10, with one or two on the waiting list,’ said Jongejan. “So that’s good, but I know the need is greater.”
Between the $25 per participant and some food donations of extra garden produce or the occasional turkey, the program budget is sustainable and set to run long-term.
In Woodstock, Ont., Sibthorpe oversees a separate Collective Kitchen for students of that city’s campus of Fanshawe College. With support from volunteers at Covenant CRC, the group meets monthly at Maranatha CRC.
“We love it. Our volunteers love it. I would encourage [this for] any church that is looking to reach out into their community,” said Sibthorpe.
Things to consider for churches interested in starting a collective kitchen:
- Menu planning: nutritious, cost-efficient recipes adaptable for large amounts
- Ingredients: buy in bulk and look for community connections
- Group size: eight to 10 is perfect for meal prep and community-building
- Recruiting participants (colleges, community agencies)
- Do your homework; there’s a lot of organization to be done.
- Reach out to other churches with similar programs for help in getting started.