The safety net in Concord would be frayed without organizations such as the Friendly Kitchen, which fed Concord’s hungry. The Friendly Kitchen began in the food pantries operated by the St. Vincent de Paul Society. In the late 1970s, Polly Bell of St. Peter’s Church had volunteered in the pantries, but when she and a few others from the St. Vincent de Paul Society visited a program in Manchester, Bell was shocked to learn the number of truly hungry people who were lining up for a warm meal, prepared in a trailer kitchen and served out of the back.
Women from local Catholic churches met to discuss how to alleviate hunger in Concord, and Bell recalls that only she was willing to lead the effort. All Concord churches, regardless of denomination, were asked to serve a meal once a month; most churches immediately agreed, and meals first were served in 1980. The first night, three people came. During the first year, the group served an average of four people, three times a week. Volunteer Jim Ceriello coordinated supplies and group schedules.
In 1982, the group combined with Riverbend Community Mental Health, then housed in the old Wonolancet Club building, where the Friendly Kitchen remained for seventeen years. The group gained financial stability, in part because Riverbend did not charge rent. Slowly, enough churches participated to allow the Friendly Kitchen to operate four nights a week, and then five. When Riverbend had a fire in 1998, the Friendly Kitchen served meals in South Church’s parking lot. When the kitchen needed renovation, both South Congregational Church and Sacred Heart Church let the Friendly Kitchen use their facility.
Concord’s Friendly Kitchen has never met the kind of organized opposition that plagued other localities. Director Hope Butterworth said that because the Friendly Kitchen worked with Riverbend for so long, often sharing clients, it was not perceived as threatening. Even when the Friendly Kitchen moved into larger quarters on Montgomery Street early in the 21st century, neighbors offered no opposition. Guests at the Friendly Kitchen have long felt quite at home, put at ease by the warmth of the many volunteers.
The following excerpt was written by Cheryl Bourassa and appeared in “Chapter 9: To Help Those in Need” of “Crosscurrents of Change.” “Crosscurrents of Change Concord, N.H. in the 20th Century’ is a 400-plus page hardcover edition introduces you to the people who helped shape a city, and it takes you through tragedy and triumph with some of the defining moments in Concord history. To purchase a copy or to learn more, visit concordhistoricalsociety.org/store.