ALPENA - In many ways the holiday season is a time of plenty, of commercial and culinary gluttony in celebration of our own good health and fortune. Fortunately for others, the staff at a local soup kitchen remembers that hunger never takes a holiday.
The St. Bernard Friendship Room serves dinner six nights a week for needy families and individuals from 4-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 2:30-4 p.m. Saturdays, sponsored by St. Bernard Catholic Church and staffed almost entirely by local volunteers. Director Randy MacAulay, who has been volunteering at the soup kitchen for eight years and running the operation for the past three, said the kitchen has been open for 24 years and its service has never been more necessary.
"We provide a hot, nutritious meal six nights a week, Monday through Saturday," he said. "In theory, we usually see more people (during the holidays). It isn't really a seasonal thing, but right now we're averaging approximately 90 people, which is the highest number we've ever fed per night."
News Photo by Andrew Westrope
Volunteers serve a hot meal to those without means to feed themselves at the St. Bernard Friendship Room in Alpena on Wednesday. Director Randy MacAulay said the need for volunteers and charity is stable year-round.
He said the kitchen has two paid staff and a pool of about 160 volunteers from various civic organizations, churches, and companies as well as individual good samaritans from throughout the community. Many of them, like MacAulay, do not belong to the church but donate their time out of respect for the demand. The number of volunteers tends to peak during the holidays, MacAuley said, but is otherwise steady year-round.
"Of course we'll get an influx for the holiday itself, like Easter, that kind of thing, but I have people joining to volunteer 12 months out of the year," he said. "It's just an incredible combination of a huge pool of volunteers, a wonderful board of directors, and an incredible assistant director in Stacie Johnston."
The Friendship Room takes on particular relevance this time of year and keeps its holiday traditions; it held a special Christmas dinner on Dec. 11 and schedules others around Thanksgiving and Easter; but the spirit of selflessness for which it is named does not have a season.
"I've been involved in hunger and homelessness issues for over 27 years, and I just moved back to Alpena in 2005. I grew up here, so I knew the need was self-evident," MacAuley said. "It was clear there was need up here, so I just got involved like I did down in Ann Arbor, and here I am."
Andrew Westrope can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5693.