After Love Inc. closed its Family Hope Center at the Merit Inn at the end of June, The Way Café, housed behind the Merit Inn, saw a drop in patrons.
Volunteer organizer of the cafe, Yvonne Meek, said people thought because the living center closed, the café had closed too. The café was preparing food for 10 — 15 people per meal. But now, more than two months after the center closed, the Meek said the number of people the café feeds has been growing.
Joel Backus, who has helped with the café from the beginning, said since August, the café will have anywhere from six to 45 people at its 5:30 — 7 p.m. meals Monday through Friday. Meals cost $3 per adult and are free to anyone under 18.
On Mondays the cook makes a big meal so the leftovers can be served if there are large crowds during the week. The café always has food, Backus said.
Meek said the disparities in numbers usually depend on the day of the month and when patrons of the café get paid.
“When they have money of their own, sometimes they buy a meal for themselves (somewhere else),” Meek said.
She said the meals served at the café are “very balanced” with a fruit, vegetable, meat, bread and milk. The meals are also home-cooked.
“We don’t just get stuff and make it up out of a box,” she said.
Meek and Backus have received a lot of help from throughout the community over the past two years the café has been operating. Thursday, the café had a new volunteer, who is a certified food service manager, making meatloaf, mashed potatoes, carrot salad and rolls.
Leroy Whit said he has “a lot of time on his hands,” so he decided to give cooking for low-income families a try. Having lived on the streets 30 years ago, Whit said he has an interest in helping kids in similar situations and has previously volunteered with Love Inc.
“I enjoy doing what I do, cooking, and I enjoy working with kids,” Whit said.
Backus said the café has a strong core group of volunteers, but “could always use cooks.” Backus is moving to Texas in a few weeks to be with his family, and he also needs volunteers to take over the maintenance work.
Even though there is a demand for the low-priced meals, the café’s future is still unclear. The landlord is looking to sell the building, and then it will be up to the new owner whether or not The Way Café will be allowed to continue to serve. Meek said it’s the best location the organizers have found because people can walk to the café.
Backus said as a “last resort” volunteers could serve from First Baptist Church of Kenai, as they did when the café first started, but the church isn’t in a convenient location.
“We’re hoping (the buyer) will be someone that will consider letting us stay (here) and feed the children as long as they come in,” Meek said.
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.