MONTROSE – Carolyn Carter had been a social worker for many years before moving to Montrose and going to work for Montrose County Health and Human Services. By the time she retired in the mid-90s, she knew there was a hunger problem in Montrose County, and was determined to do something about it.
And so she did, by starting Christ’s Kitchen, where anyone can get a free meal, five days a week.
For the past six years, the kitchen and lunchroom have been housed on North Grant Street in a building owned by MADA, the Mexican American Development Association. But patronage has doubled to about 100 diners per day since the recession began three or four years ago, and more space was needed.
Carter said she had been looking for a long time, and finally found the perfect spot in the former Cheap Charlie’s Restaurant, which closed its doors a few months ago.
With the help of volunteer labor, and materials and donations by local businesses, the restaurant is being remodeled to meet the specifications of kitchen manager Leilani Sherkanowski, who has been burning the midnight oil to get the kitchen and diner open.
“Our plans are to serve lunch on May 2,” she said. “I was here until 2 a.m. last night and my husband (Alex, who’s in charge of the remodel) was here until 4.”
Four or five volunteers were swarming with paintbrushes and ladders as Sherkanowski looked over the new premises earlier this week, where the multi-roomed kitchen is being consolidated into one big room, and the former restaurant bar is being turned into a serving counter.
There’s still plenty left to do, she said, but the community has been very supportive.
Sherkanowski said she is planning a thank you dinner in June for those who helped and for businesses that contributed materials, time and labor, “from DMEA (Delta Montrose Electric Association) to Home Depot.”
Although the new free kitchen and lunchroom is at the opposite end of town from MADA, Carter said it’s near a bus stop and will better serve the senior population since it will be closer to several retirement communities and apartments for elders.
“I’m expecting a big increase since we’re moving,” Carter said. “All Points Transit bus stop is right out front, and we might have to get some bus passes so no one is left out.”
Carter said that MADA may continue serving a light lunch of soup and sandwiches for those in the area who don’t want to travel.
Remodeling work at Cheap Charlie's has been going on for a month, Carter said, with lots volunteer labor and many donated items.
“It will be much better access, with plenty of parking and we’ll be cooking a lot more food,” she said.
Carter said she felt she was called to open the lunch kitchen, but at first the city council didn’t see the need, even though she’d seen it first hand.
“I saw way too many empty refrigerators, and when I retired I felt like God gave this to me as a retirement project,” she said. “We got our 501(c)3 (nonprofit) status, but the city told us it was not necessary.”
Three months later however, the city council came around and presented Christ’s Kitchen with a check for $500, Carter said.
“We thought we were in heaven,” she said. “Then MADA said, ‘We give everything away and so do you,’ so we moved in the next day.”
Carter wishes free meals weren’t necessary to keep some of the population from going hungry, but that’s not the case, she said.
“We are glad to provide food, and a lot of it is the sociability that’s going on,” she said.
Carter said she started working on Christ’s Kitchen with attorney Dennis Devore and the late Marlene Love.
“She and I cooked for the Delta prison on weekends and were concerned about the lack of support for folks coming out of prison,” she said. “We really wanted a shelter, but we knew that wouldn’t fly.”
Then Gary Martinez got involved, she said, and everyone working together made the lunchroom and kitchen possible, with the hope to get a shelter going later.
Six years later, Carter has been instrumental in the recent opening of Haven House Shelter for homeless families in Olathe.
“It only took six us years to do that,” she said. “There’s God again.”
Carter is helping oversee the kitchen at the shelter as well as running Christ’s Kitchen, hardly a relaxing retirement. She has also kept her state counseling license current so she can provide even more help at Haven House.
She said she’s still amazed that the shelter is now open and that it evolved from the first free diner, which is still going strong.
“If it weren’t for God, this would never have happened, just from where we started,” she said. “I didn’t know if we could keep it going, but it’s almost six years of actively serving meals. It’s all not humanly possible, so the almighty gets the credit. After all, it’s his son’s kitchen.”
To make a contribution to Christ’s Kitchen, send checks to PO Box 3013, Montrose, CO 81401. To learn more, call Carter at 970/240-3941.