40 years and over a million meals. . .
The History of Cathedral Kitchen in celebration of 40 years of service to the community.
The four founders of the Cathedral Kitchen, 1976
In April 1976, an International Eucharistic Congress was held in Philadelphia. Four young residents of Camden attended a session presented by Mother Teresa that would change their lives, and the lives of others, in the coming years. Caught up in the spirit, they formed a conference of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society with the goal of helping the hungry of Camden, and the Cathedral Kitchen was born.
Despite the lack of support and the skepticism of many, the Cathedral Kitchen was an idea that addressed a need. It was conceived and implemented with the naiveté and determination of youth. And, specifically because it was an act of charity, it was destined to be successful.
Volunteers working the “Casserole Program” at the Cathedral Kitchen
After several years of scraping together funds and donated food, a program began at the Kitchen that was to become the heart of the operation for the next decade—the “casserole program”. It was an ingenious way to involve hundreds of people in serving the poor from their own kitchens, using homemade casseroles that were frozen and transported to the Kitchen by volunteers.
This program provided such a unique and dynamic way to extend one’s own family table to the poor of Camden that it caught on like wildfire and spread throughout the area, including churches of many denominations and synagogues as well. The casserole program sustained the operation through the 1980’s.
People lining up outside the Cathedral Kitchen for a meal
In the 1990’s, the Kitchen was granted tax exempt status and recognition as a 501(c)(3) corporation, which enabled the Kitchen to become eligible for grants from foundations and corporations, and also to be the beneficiary of bequests and tax deductible donations by individuals.
CK took a big step by hiring its first cooking staff, Clyde and Theresa Jones, known as “Mom” and “Pop”, to serve the growing number of people coming for meals. Shortly thereafter, Sister Jean Spena, O.P., came on board and this team of three held the operation together for many years.
September 2007 Ground Breaking Celebration with members of the “building” team
2001 marked CK’s 25th anniversary and the beginning of a search for a permanent home as the monthly meal number climbed to over 7,000.
In 2003, a decision was made to hire the organization’s first Executive Director to assist with a $1 million building renovation, which later became a new construction project expected to exceed $4 million. Late in 2005, CK secured a capacity building grant and hired its first Development Director to assist with its capital campaign.
The new home of the Cathedral Kitchen located at 1514 Federal Street opened its doors in November, 2008
Lots of determination and a few miracles helped the organization raise enough funds to break ground on the new building in 2007. “A Home For Cathedral Kitchen” was beginning to become a reality! In November of 2008, we served the first meal in our new building and we reached another milestone, serving 100,000 meals that year. The kitchen in the new facility allows us to provide meals to local shelters, after school programs, and other community organizations.
In 2009, the Culinary Arts Training (CAT) Program was launched to provide basic culinary training and job placement assistance to 40 people per year. The program is taught by CK Chef Jonathan Jernigan and our adjunct instructors. Guest chefs from local restaurants volunteer their time to teach classes in their areas of expertise each semester.
In 2009, CK established partnerships with other organizations to provide basic healthcare services to our dinner guests and students. This “partnership’ strategy allows us to maximize the use of our space with minimal cost to CK. We continue these efforts in partnership with Project H.O.P.E., Rutgers School of Nursing and Rutgers School of Public Health.
Culinary Art Students Catering an Event
Dr. Martin with his assistant and a patient
In 2010, local dentists and dental professionals began volunteering two days per week in our Project Smiles Dental Clinic. They provide basic dental care: exams, x-rays, cleanings, extractions, and dentures for adult patients. The population we serve generally has had little or no dental care during their lifetime. The new facility is a testament to the vision of CK’s founders as it provides new and expanded ways to serve residents of Camden.
In 2012, CK launched a catering and contract meal initiative that was envisioned to help fund human services programs.
In 2013, the building next door to Cathedral Kitchen went up for sale. After much discussion and assessment, the CK board decided to purchase the building at 1506 Federal Street. A capital campaign to raise $2.3 million was launched to raise the funds needed. Thanks to many gifts, large and small, CK raised $2.1 million for the project.
In 2014, the building was renovated to include a large commercial kitchen that enables us to accept more institutional meal contracts, as well as extend culinary training to include a baking arts segment. Other features include a large dry storage area for supplies and a rooftop garden for fresh vegetables and herbs. The highlight of the renovation is the CK Café which is open to the public.
A generous gift from the South Jersey Charitable Foundation of $600,000 was a great boost to the campaign early on.
In 2015, CK opened its new facility next door to house “social enterprise” initiatives that utilize food to generate income to help fund human services programs, as well as expand job training programs.
The CK Café opened to the public for lunch in May 2015. The space is available for catered events in the mornings, afternoons and evenings. Over 1,600 contract meals are prepared in the large commercial kitchen and delivered by CK vans to eight shelters and halfway houses operated by Volunteers of America Delaware Valley, 365 days a year
CK’s Baking Arts Training (BAT) program was launched in August of 2015 and operates in the commercial kitchen providing 20 students per year with job training and placement assistance in the field of baking.