TO THE RESCUE: Soup kitchen among local nonprofits benefiting from COVID rescue funds

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Pictured: Jill Ebbert of the Kenneth Butler Soup Kitchen. Officials are planning to do a long-awaited expansion with the city’s help. Thursday, Jan. 20, 2023.

Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

GREENFIELD — The Kenneth-Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen doesn’t suffer from too many cooks in the kitchen.

It’s all the boxes that’s the problem.

The Greenfield-based kitchen will soon address the issue thanks to a $105,000 grant from the City of Greenfield, which will enable the nonprofit to remodel the kitchen to allow for more storage.

The money was one of four grants awarded by the Greenfield Common Council at its Dec. 14 meeting, when the council approved the disbursement of $300,000 in funds to local nonprofits through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), part of the economic stimulus bill passed in 2021 to speed up the country’s recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing recession.

Other grant recipients include: $70,000 for Love, Inc. for building maintenance and repairs; $75,000 for the Hancock County Food Pantry to add a walk-in freezer; and $50,000 for Regreening Greenfield to treat, maintain and plant trees.

“The council’s ARPA Committee were provided information on the capital projects these nonprofits needed since their fundraising efforts had been thwarted during the pandemic,” said Greenfield’s clerk-treasurer, Lori Elmore.

“We support a number of nonprofits on an annual basis. The four nonprofits who were included in the (ARPA) plan are a few of those we already support,” she said.

Jill Ebbert, the soup kitchen’s longtime director, said the generous grant was great news for the soup kitchen, which has been struggling with cramped conditions as the kitchen continues to serve a record number of patrons.

The kitchen served anywhere from 170 to 200 meals each weekday in 2022, a 42% increase over the previous year.

Ebbert attributes the increase in patrons to the ongoing downturn in the economy.

“The economy is just tough, and people are having trouble making their money stretch,” she said, echoing a sentiment shared by numerous nonprofits.

“We are serving approximately 200 client households each week as more and more families struggle with inflation and increased food costs,” said Elizabeth Rusche, a longtime Hancock County Food Pantry board member and volunteer.

Thanks to the city’s ARPA grant, the food pantry will be able to pay for a new walk-in freezer, including electric work and a concrete pad.

“We are grateful to the city for these funds as we continue to maintain our facility,” Rusche said.

Debra Weber, executive director of Love INC, said the city’s ARPA grant would go a long way in providing upgrades for the nonprofit’s office space, including replacing the existing siding, repairing roof soffits and installing energy-efficient windows and doors.

As for the soup kitchen, Ebbert said the upcoming remodel would better serve the nonprofit’s clients and volunteers, the latter of which are stepping around boxes of food and food containers as they prepare meals each day.

“We are so jammed, we just really need to figure out ways to utilize the space we have a little bit better,” she said.

The nonprofit is currently securing permits, but Ebbert hopes to see the remodeling start soon.

The project will entail taking an existing restroom used by patrons and cutting it in half, repurposing half the space into a laundry room.

The current laundry room will be repurposed to house two stoves, which would free up a wall to create more storage.

The remodel will also likely include building additional supply space in the basement and replacing outdated tiles and doors.

The overall improvements will make kitchen operations much more efficient, said the soup kitchen’s board president, Dave Steinmetz.

“It should definitely make things run more smoothly,” said Steinmetz, who expressed thanks to the city’s council members for the grant.

“The city has always been very supportive of the soup kitchen and has been wonderful to work with,” he said.

Ebbert said the ARPA grant and resulting remodel will help the soup kitchen continue its mission of feeding the hungry, no matter their circumstance.

While the local unhoused population makes up a portion of soup kitchen patrons, Ebbert said a number of working individuals come in for meals as well.

“There’s a lot of working people who eat here because their money is not not going far enough,” she said.

“We’ve always told people, ‘Don’t worry about paying your rent or buying clothes for your kids in order to buy groceries. Let us feed you and you can take that money and put it where else you need it.’ We can help alleviate that worry.”

Ebbert said the soup kitchen is blessed to have plenty of food thanks to ongoing donations, including a number of food drives held by local businesses and nonprofits in recent months.

“We have been blessed with so much food that we’re sending it out the door (through meals served) as fast as we can, and it’s coming right back in, which is an absolute blessing,” she said.

While ongoing donations are always encouraged, Ebbert said the public can also support the soup kitchen by attending its multiple fundraisers throughout the year, including a breakfast hosted by Bradley United Methodist Church on Feb. 11, euchre night at the Greenfield Elks Club on March 22 and trivia night at the Elks Club on April 8.