ALPENA - Volunteers and organizers of St. Bernard's Friendship Room are addressing local hunger issues by offering community members a place to eat a warm meal, pray and celebrate the holidays.
Randy MacAulay, director of the Friendship Room, said he and his steady group of volunteers have been busy preparing for the holiday season.
"Holidays are always overwhelming here. A lot of people get into the holiday spirit and want to give, and we usually have a high amount of people coming in to eat meals," MacAulay said.
News Photo by Emily Siegmon
Gladys Kemnitz, left, and Dot Allison prepare meals at St. Bernard’s Friendship Room.
MacAulay said he never turns people away, and when the holidays come around more people volunteer to help at the soup kitchen.
"I usually take the name and number of people who want to volunteer. I eventually end up setting up a start date and time with them, and then they'll get hands-on training right away," MacAulay said.
The Friendship Room's doors are open to the public Monday through Friday from 4-5:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 2:30-4 p.m. Volunteers typically arrive at 1 p.m. to start preparing meals and helping with different projects like cooking, serving, setting up and cleaning.
"We are usually busy; we average around 80-100 people coming in per night," he said.
Most of the Friendship Room's guests are not families. According to MacAulay there are a more single mothers and their children, as well as senior citizens than families.
"No one should be going hungry, there is enough food in this country to feed everyone," he said.
Although numbers are always steady at the Friendship Room, MacAulay said there are usually more people who come in for the holiday meals.
"Even though we have more people coming in during holidays, we also have more volunteers. This operation is successful because of the combination of dedicated volunteers and generous support from our community," MacAulay said.
According to MacAulay local schools, civic organizations, food stores, and private citizens all play a significant role in the success of the Friendship Room.
"When all of these entities come together, we have a very smooth operation. We are lucky to have a cooperative board of directors, and a wonderful assistant director," MacAulay said.
The Friendship Room served Thanksgiving dinner Thursday and will host a special Christmas dinner on Dec. 20.
"Our holiday meals are more extravagant. We serve hors d'oeuves, several different kinds of drinks and desserts, and our dining room will be decorated," he said.
The holiday meals also are bigger, volunteers prepare enough food so all of the guests can eat as much as they would like and take some home.
"Hunger is a powerful term. It's a serious issue that a lot of people don't know about, but I try to encourage all of our guests and volunteers to have fun at the Friendship Room," MacAulay said.
Assistant Director Stacie Johnston said holiday meals are one of the busiest times and that Thanksgiving dinner is one of the hardest meals to plan for.
"Holidays are a dynamic time where we see a lot of donations and support from our community. It's incredibly heartwarming to see people coming together and supporting people who are suffering from hunger," Johnston said.
Emily Siegmon can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5687.