EDMONDS, Wash., June 21, 2023—Every Wednesday morning, around 8:30 a.m., a group of volunteers and special needs students from schools throughout the Edmonds School District, arrive at Edmonds Lutheran Church to begin prepping for Annie’s Community Kitchen’s weekly free dinner.
The Kitchen is a service of Edmonds Lutheran Church that provides a delicious, hot and free community meal, every Wednesday evening from 5-6:30 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of the church. The meal is always well attended and made possible by a committed group of volunteers that collectively donate dozens of hours to make the meal enjoyable and nourishing, its website states.
The Kitchen also takes weekly meals to the Veteran Center behind Aurora Plaza.
“Anybody can show up and ask for a meal,” Sandy Yeigh with Annie’s Kitchen told the Lynnwood Times. “We don’t ask any questions.”
There is no menu at Annie’s Kitchen and many times the chefs don’t even know what they’ll prepare until they arrive the morning of, Yeigh explained, but “there’s always a vegetarian dish” and “it’s always fresh.”
The meal’s ingredients are collected by a group of “gleamers” who drive around the area in Annie’s Kitchen vans, five days a week, collecting a couple tons of food from local restaurants and grocery stores deemed unfit to sell.
One of these gleamers, Erik Harada, who has worked at Annie’s since its inception, was drawn to the work he does through his love for cooking and serving his community. He told the Lynnwood Times that Lexus donated the vans he drives in 2016 and are great about covering the cost of repairs. Just last year both vans had their catalytic converters stolen and Lexus replaced them free-of-charge, he said.
Each week a group of approximately 30 volunteers take the ingredients Harada, and his team of about 12-15 gleamers, collect and prepare around 200 meals, which have exclusively been packaged for take out since 2020. The kitchen hopes to return to in-person dining some time this fall.
“I think one of the reasons that Annie started this was that she saw a lot of seniors who were lonely and the social security check may not last until the end of the month,” said Yeigh. “When we were serving the meal we had a lot of them come because it was social, and we’re trying really hard to go back to that.”
Yeigh, who has been working at Annie’s Kitchen for about nine years, wears a lot of hats, she said, but her main role is “keeping everyone busy” and “keeping the [volunteers] out of the chef’s hair,” she joked.
During the school year two groups of Edmonds School District special needs students – one group in the morning and another in the afternoon – arrive to volunteer their time for about an hour each. The volunteering opportunity allows these students to receive their food handling permits, learned experience, and educational credits.
The kitchen has also partnered with local drug courts to fulfill community service hours for individuals in the past.
Annie Fortnum and Bob Snyder founded Annie’s Kitchen in 2004, in response to the ever-alarming rate of poverty in the community they were witnessing. Unfortunately, Fortnum passed away in October of 2022, but her memory lives on through the continued community work of Annie’s Kitchen and a portrait of her displayed above the prep table.
Fortnum was described by many working at Annie’s Kitchen as “passionate,” “feisty,” and “determined.” She was always trying new things, picked up playing the harp at the age of 80, and continued to work in Annie’s Kitchen until she was physically unable to do so.
One of the volunteers at Annie’s Kitchen, Wayne Case, a Vietnam War vet, shared with the Lynnwood Times he entered a deep depression after his wife passed away in 2012. Since volunteering his time at Annie’s Kitchen he found a sense of purpose and was able to lift himself out of that dark place. His favorite part about working at Annie’s Kitchen is “working with children” and giving his life structure, he added.
According to the organization Bread for the World, one in four American families struggle today to find adequate food. It is this need that gave rise to a community effort that over the years has served tens of thousands of meals.
The weekly dinner grew from humble beginnings when only four people showed up for the first feast. But it has been steadily growing since then, bringing new faces and appetites each week to the church. It is now estimated that Annie’s Kitchen serves over 10,800 meals a year, free of charge. No strings attached.
Annie’s Community Kitchen celebrates its 19th year of service this year although nothing special is yet planned to commemorate this landmark. They are always looking for able-bodied, and willing, volunteers to join their team.
For more information on how to volunteer at Annie’s Community Kitchen, email Bob Snyder at: email@example.com.