Though volunteer cooks arrive earlier, the Community Kitchen in Canton springs into full action at 5 p.m. Those seeking a hearty meal park up and down the street (for lack of a parking lot), and once inside, do a two-step to find an open spot at one of the tables.
“We serve every night,” the nonprofit’s executive director, Kim Czaja, says, reporting an average of 31 people per dinner in 2015, with double that on the busiest evenings. “And our tables are very close, so if somebody needs to back out to get up, they bump into the person behind them.” Quarters are cramped in the back of the house, too, which is particularly perilous when the oven doors heat up.
“It’s just not big enough,” Czaja concludes.
Luckily, the operation may soon have more elbow room. A move to the 1.15-acre lot at 394 Champion Drive would provide more than triple the indoor area for a dining room, pantry, kitchen and two classrooms — for which Czaja already has a projector and screen.
“We’ve wanted to extend our ministry beyond just feeding,” she explains, listing proposed class offerings such as basic finances, General Education Development subjects plus other programs from organizations that boost employment opportunities.
“Folks in Canton who want to do something like that, unfortunately, have to drive to Waynesville,” she says. “And if you’re coming here to eat, you’re having trouble just making ends meet and affording food on the table. You really can’t afford to drive to Waynesville all the time.”
Relocating the Community Kitchen was the subject of conversations for years before Czaja’s appointment as executive director in late 2015. Leadership had looked at the same building of interest several years ago, but it was priced too high. “For whatever reason, God just decided now is the time to do this, and we got a really good deal on it,” she explains.
Now that the hunt is over, the nonprofit organization — which receives grants as a member of the United Way network — needs to raise $20,000 by Sunday, April 10, toward purchasing the building. After that, renovating the new Community Kitchen will cost an estimated $100,000.
With donations and larger sponsorships forthcoming from citizens and organizations, Czaja has nearly closed in on the first milestone. After the move, she’ll hold an awareness event at the new location to attract additional support and get community input on the project.
Buying the building would immediately alleviate parking woes on the two evenings per month that the Community Kitchen distributes food boxes — an offering that brings about 100 people through the door in a two-hour period but doesn’t require any equipment other than assembly and storage space. The remaining transitions, Czaja says, will be carried out as quickly as possible, “but finances are going to determine that.”
Canton Community Kitchen is at 98 Pisgah Drive, Canton. Donations can be mailed to the Community Kitchen, P.O. Box 513, Canton, NC 28716. Supporters are also needed to volunteer time and donate food, paper products and cleaning supplies. Visit cantoncommunitykitchen.org/ or call 648-0014 for more information.