Cooking up some renovation plans at St. Brigid's

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BRATTLEBORO — While the Rev. Justin Baker looks at St. Brigid's Kitchen and Pantry as "a beautiful little part" of the St. Michael Roman Catholic Church and an asset to the community, he holds out hope that one day it might not be needed.

"I wouldn't mind the day when we have no clientele," he said, urging parishioners and volunteers to help raise money for renovations.

The kitchen is on Walnut Street, next to St. Michael Roman Catholic School. The goal has been to help ease the burden of hunger.

Baker said Thursday night's event at 118 Elliot was to show appreciation for all the volunteers and to kick off fundraising to make a kitchen that is "much more accommodating" for the volunteers and clients. He expects demolition could begin in June.

"We're hoping and praying that we can eventually get to the point where we give you a new kitchen to work in," he told volunteers. "It is about time that the building get restored to something that is more useful, something more revitalized. We hope to leave the front section in the shape that it is in and just fix it up cosmetically, and then we hope to remove the whole backside of the building."

The project is estimated to cost $250,000. So far, about $98,000 has been raised.

"We serve a lot of comfort food," said Carolyn Pieciak, volunteer coordinator. "The meals are really something you get at the diner."

Menu selections at the kitchen on Thursday included linguini with clam sauce, roast beef and chicken rice soup.

Pieciak was among a group of about 20 people who started the kitchen in 1982. During the first few years, about 20 people would receive a meal on any given day, in her estimation. Now, she counts up to 100 or 120.

About 20,000 meals are served annually at the kitchen and about 60 or more families benefit from the pantry, according to Pieciak.

The kitchen is open 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. More than 50 volunteers make up the five teams that run the operation.

"I like the people," said Rebecca Koski, a volunteer. "I feel like I'm doing something for the public."

There are times when people just need help, she added.

Jimmy Ewens "dined with us for years," said Pieciak. Like Koski, Ewens said it is the people who keep him volunteering.

The wide range of ages of volunteers was noted by Baker.

Gareth Roy, who is 17, started helping at St. Brigid's when a community service project was required for his bar mitzvah.

"Needless to say, my rabbi's very strict," he joked.

Roy continues to help and is one of the best volunteers, Pieciak said.

Fran Rooney, who is 86 years old, prepares dishes for guests. Isabelle Gander, who is two years older, is known as the "salad queen."

Larry Besserer, who has run the food pantry for about four or five years, expressed concern about a lack of support for the poorer residents.

"There's no solution that's 100 percent," he said. "But we know we're making an assist to their lives."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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