A soup kitchen with sit-down dining service will be offered at the Talent Café in early March on a trial basis for what the organizer hopes will become a monthly event.
TALENT — A soup kitchen with sit-down dining service will be offered at the Talent Café in early March on a trial basis for what the organizer hopes will become a monthly event.
Café owner Denise O'Brien plans three seatings of about 40 people each. She will distribute meal vouchers to local service clubs, social service agencies, churches and other groups in Ashland, Phoenix and Talent to give to those who can use a good meal and more.
"Basically why I want to do this is not only to feed them, but have them come to a nice restaurant to be served," said O'Brien. "It feeds spirit as well as their stomachs."
Soups, stews and chilli — food that's easy to put out in bulk and not too expensive — will be the main offerings, said O'Brien. She will gear the effort toward families.
A number of her customers are teachers, who told her about the high percentage of students in the Phoenix-Talent School District who qualify for meal assistance. That information led to the soup kitchen idea.
During December, 65 percent of the district's 2,700 students in K-12 were eligible for free or reduced-price meal services, said Superintendent Ben Bergreen. Eligibility is based on income and family size.
"I've got the kitchen, I've got the place, I've got a baker that's going to donate," said O'Brien. One thing she doesn't have is a lot of bowls. She's hopes the public will help with that.
Food Services of America, which supplies the restaurant, will solicit donations from its vendors, said O'Brien.
"I would appreciate donations," said O'Brien. "I'm positive that folks in the community will step up."
Mayors Bill Cecil of Talent and John Stromberg of Ashland will offer support. Restaurant staff and volunteers from the community will serve the food, the café owner said. Musicians will entertain during the evening.
Although some Rogue Valley restaurants have offered free meals on holidays, O'Brien's effort may be a first of its kind in the area, according to an ACCESS representative.
"It's a new concept, the dignified service," said Glory Cooper, nutrition program coordinator with ACCESS. "In the Eugene area, some of the soup kitchens are converting to just simple things, like having tablecloths on the tables, using silverware rather than plastic and getting volunteers to serve the meals."
O'Brien can be reached through her email at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Talent Cafe's Facebook page.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at email@example.com.