Step inside Marcella’s Kitchen and you will greeted by the sweet aromas wafting from the kitchen. Avid volunteers cook, prepare and serve food to approximately 60-80 people per day. Marcella’s Kitchen is the only food pantry in Marshall County that serves a hot meal, and the meals are not just meat and potatoes. On the day I visited, the volunteers served hot dogs and sauerkraut, beans, potatoes, a piece of garlic bread and a tea of choice. Each meal comes with dessert and if one of their “friends,” as Marcella Perkins calls the people who come for a hot meal, are celebrating a birthday, they will get a candle in their dessert to blow out while the volunteers sing “Happy Birthday.”
It is clear to see that Marcella’s Kitchen offers far more than just a hot meal to those in need. Marcella and her volunteers never question anyone who comes for a meal. Sometimes, it isn’t just for a meal. “Marcella’s Kitchen is about real fellowship, not just food. For many of our friends, this is the highlight of their day and for some, the only time they will interact with others,” says Jay Staten, a dedicated volunteer at Marcella’s Kitchen.
While Marcella had plenty of stories to share of friends she has helped, a few stood out in her mind. The community kitchen once helped a family of six who had a little boy with cancer. While the mother was in Nashville tending to her son’s medical treatment, the volunteers at Marcella’s Kitchen would take meals to the family. Or there was the story of a young man who works part-time and cares his mother who had a stroke. She also recalls a father and daughter who mended their rocky relationship by joining one another for a meal at Marcella’s Kitchen.
The volunteers go above and beyond serving a meal for their friends at the community kitchen and find their experience “an eye-opener,” says one volunteer. They purchased a tire for an individual in need, gave out blankets for those who need extra warmth in the winter and ensured their friends are taken care of during the holidays.
“We are closed for Christmas, but we send each of our friends home with a bag of groceries to make sure they have food at home,” says Marcella.
When asked why she decided to open her community kitchen in 2017 Marcella said, “I love cooking, people and the need was here. I love the Lord and his people so I wanted to give back in the way he called me to serve,” says Marcella.
Marcella’s Kitchen is certainly a need in the community serving more than 1,500 people per month, but it has quickly grown out of its current space. Only a few volunteers can fit in the tiny kitchen at once and they have to hand wash all of the cooking ware. To reduce labor time, the community kitchen serves meals on styrofoam plates with plastic utensils, but that adds extra costs to each meal. Currently, the freezers and extra storage for food are kept in several trailers placed behind the building instead of one central location, the parking lot area is small and only will hold a handful of cars and the location is not ideal for the people it serves. Often times, their friends rely on the bus system that occasionally runs routes, but Marcella admits that is one of the most difficult volunteer spots to fill.
While their current location has more than served its purpose, Marcella’s Kitchen is ready for a new home and Marcella has found the perfect location.
In the next few months, Marcella’s Kitchen will reside in the former Marshall County Hospital medical offices located at 503 George McClain Drive in Benton. The new location is nearly 8,000 square feet and everything can be housed and operated under one roof. Even more exciting for Marcella and her volunteers, the dining room will be able to hold up to 200 people. “We can double the number of people we serve!” says Jay.
The parking lot is as spacious as the new building and the building is in the heart of downtown Benton which makes it walking distance or a short drive for many of their friends. Thanks to the extra space in the building, the community kitchen plans to build a separate room for events and parties complete with a catering kitchen for the community to rent. Every cent raised from rental money will feed the community kitchen as it has fed so many in need.
Currently, the building inside is bare and is undergoing renovation thanks to the dedicated volunteers of the community kitchen. They took down more then 40 walls and were able to give back to Habitat for Humanity by donating the unneeded materials from the building. Though bare, Marcella stood in each room during our tour and painted a vivid picture of a building that will offer a hot meal, community and so much more to the people of Benton and beyond.
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