Adults and children alike piled inside the back of the Salvation Army. Some entered the kitchen to move rapidly between its shiny, industrial appliances as lunch preparations launched. A majority of those present filed into the meeting hall.
Proud mama Kristi Armstrong led a round of applause for Lindsey Armstrong’s recent honor of being named one of two Bradley Countians to receive the Governor’s Volunteer Star Award.
The honor was mentioned in a recent newspaper article. It was only one in a recent onslaught of media surrounding Family Kitchen, a nonprofit started by the Armstrongs a year ago.
“Now, I don’t want you to think the publicity changes how we feel about you guys,” Lindsey assured the crowd of men, women, teens and youngsters. “We hope it will just help us help you more.”
The Armstrongs, of which there is Bob, Kristi, Lindsey and Christian, currently feed hundreds of individuals in need each week alongside volunteers and friends through the Family Kitchen.
“I thought it was going to be really boring, but it is actually kind of fun,” Christian, the youngest member of the family, said of the Armstrongs’ conception and continuation of the Family Kitchen. “I get to talk to some of the people and I get to do the desserts. Some of my friends come and help me.”
The idea for the nonprofit originally grew out of Lindsey’s desire to help those in need living in the heart of the city.
As a member of the Bradley Central High cross-country team, a 6 a.m. practice jog took her through downtown Cleveland. She took note of a lady who sat in the same place every morning. Sometimes she had an apple. Sometimes she did not.
One morning Lindsey brought her a muffin.
Once a relationship was established, Lindsey noticed others in need. The problem was far more than one muffin could fix. She asked her parents to help in January of 2013.
They responded first with a breakfast a week later. The muffins were passed out at the Summit Apartments and Johnston Park. The family decided to up the ante in March of 2013 with Saturday lunches cooked and served in the Salvation Army facilities. They never expected the number of people served to increase so much.
The first lunch only had 15. Soon there were 50. As the weeks passed, the Armstrongs noticed there was an average of 12 new faces each lunch. Now the Family Kitchen serves about 350 each Saturday between the regularly scheduled lunch and neighborhood visits.
Bob and Kristi refer to Lindsey’s meeting with the lady on the bench in downtown Cleveland as a divine appointment.
“It has brought our family so, so, so, so close. That is how I know it was a God thing,” Bob said. “It was much needed. I know it is God who wants us to do this.”
Volunteers have stepped up alongside the Armstrongs in an effort to meet the need. Lindsey said more than 2,000 different people have aided in Family Kitchen’s mission. Some of the most loyal are her friends from high school: Harold Smith, Collin Gwaltney, Joe Keller and Rachel Tarver. Others from local churches and clubs have heard about the nonprofit by word of mouth.
Members of Candies Creek City Church, a satellite campus of Candies Creek Church on Eureka Road, learned about the nonprofit when Lindsey attended a Bible study.
It was an answer to the group’s question of how to impact Cleveland in a way “that would impart lasting change for the Lord.”
Church members have since volunteered the last Saturday of every month.
“We just wanted to plug into the love and the heart the Armstrongs have for these people,” Work said. “They are real people, and they have needs like anyone else. If it wasn’t for the Lord, we would be in their shoes.”
Volunteer Kim Cook also learned about the Family Kitchen through a chance encounter with Lindsey in Johnston Park.
Cook said she and her husband, Gary, have attempted to help those in need for quite some time. She shared the needs of the people with Lindsey, who in turn took the knowledge under consideration for Family Kitchen.
According to Cook, she has since seen a huge impact on those in need through the nonprofit.
“The people are a lot healthier. They are happier. I see them moving around more,” Cook said. “They are not just sitting around idling somewhere. They are taking the resources the Family Kitchen has to offer and running with them.”
She said she shares the Armstrongs’ dream of moving the Family Kitchen into its own building.
“I really want to see that,” Cook said. “These people, a lot of them, are out in the rain and the cold. They don’t have a place where they can just sit and get out of the rain.”
Fellow Volunteer Jason Nichols also named a building as a hope for Family Kitchen in the future.
He and his wife, Rachel, and their children recently joined Family Kitchen’s efforts to reach those in need of a helping hand. Their son has taken note of the need, as well. He told Jason he wanted to help the homeless. The Nichols and friends ended up packing 200-300 lunches.
“The biggest thing is we are unified around one goal,” Jason said. “It is ministry in the name of Christ. It is a lot of different churches, a lot of different people involved. We all have one common goal, and that is to lift up the name of Jesus.”
Added Rachel, “It would be awesome to see even more churches and community groups involved in the process.”
Manpower support for the Family Kitchen has resulted in sponsors for every Saturday between now and Aug. 9. Kristi said there are only 10 weekends available for those interested. Local restaurants have also stepped up to help the nonprofit. Those include: Townhouse Bakery, the Village Bake Shop, Publix, Longhorn, Stadium BBQ and several other restaurants.
The help is needed as the Armstrongs have decided they are invested for the long haul.
“There is no way we cannot do it now that we have done it consistently for a year,” Bob said. “I can’t do that. I can’t leave those people on the street.”
Added Kristi, “They count on us.”
Even Christian, who at one point thought the venture would be boring, has decided he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps as head cook.
The current goal at present is to maintain the breakfasts six mornings a week in addition to Saturday lunch.
The Armstrongs would also like to add an additional meal between lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday.
Lindsey stressed the Family Kitchen will not duplicate services already offered in the community by other agencies. Instead, they will work along the other nonprofits, like Cleveland Emergency Shelter, The Caring Place and The Refuge, to meet the needs of community members.
As far as next year is concerned, Kristi made clear the hope the Armstrongs have for the Family Kitchen.
“We want to celebrate the second anniversary in our own building,” Kristi said. “We have our eye on a building, and if 250 people only donate $1,000, we can get that building.”
More information can be found by visiting thefamilykitchen.org. The nonprofit can also be followed on Twitter with the handle @thefamkitchen and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thefamilykitchenorg.