As the Knox Prairie Community Kitchen, or KPCK, expands to a new location, Knox students reflect on the community-building power of the program in the Galesburg location.
KPCK hosts dinners twice a month at the Central Congregational Church at no cost to those who attend; the dinners are open to all community members.
While there is an obvious practical benefit to offering free meals to community members who could use a break two nights a month from rising food costs and the time it takes to prepare a meal, there is an accompanying social benefit, according to KnoxCorps Associate and junior Frank Foster-Bolton.
“The community kitchen in my opinion is a community builder first. That’s my primary love for it,” Foster-Bolton said.
Senior Luke Albrecht heard about KPCK through Foster-Bolton and has since attended dinners in both volunteer and diner capacities.
“I’ve worked at it a total of five times and I’ve been to it to eat twice when I haven’t been working,” Albrecht said.
According to Albrecht, the dinners attract community members from all walks of life, adding to the community-building effect.
Witnessing the positive interactions of community members lead Albrecht to see the “fellowship” enabled by the dinners.
“Because it’s a free meal you get a lot of different kinds of people coming together and taking part in the fellowship,” Albrecht said. “The people who go to the dinners are not just the people who need food.”
Vice President and Co-Founder of KPCK James Eastwood said that it has always been his intention to expand the program to towns outside of Galesburg and that Knoxville is just the first of these expansions.
The first dinner at the Knoxville location will be held at the Knoxville United Methodist Church on March 6.
Eastwood plans to grow the community gardens used to supply fresh produce to the dinners to meet the increase in demand.
Along with passing out volunteer sign up sheets at multiple churches in Knoxville, Eastwood said that he consistently receives calls from community members interested in volunteering.
Albrecht said that his experiences attending the dinners as a volunteer and as an attendee have been largely the same.
“It’s a little different, but when it comes down to it I’ve been able to connect with people the same way in either capacity. Volunteering and eating, both of them have enabled me to engage with community members,” Albrecht said.
Both Albrecht and Foster-Bolton have had experiences engaging with community members that have stayed with them, and give them confidence that the model will be successful in any location.
“I guess there are two [experiences] that have stuck out most recently. One time I just started talking to two guys and they seemed very interested in what I had to say. They knew all about my hometown, and we just ended up talking for 45 minutes about our lives,” Albrecht said.
“The second one was, I saw a kid with some trading cards and I just asked him a question about them and he ended up taking me aside while I was working and talking to me about his Yu-Gi-Oh! Cards. It was really cool, because he reminded me of a younger version of myself.”
Foster-Bolton echoed Albrecht’s experiences.
“I remember one time this man told me a story of him hopping on and off trains and hitchhiking across the country,” Foster-Bolton said. “There’s also a guy I talk to every meal whose son lives in Minnesota … I just like to listen to him share stories about his life with me.”
Albrecht said that just seeing the diners interacting in a positive setting is beneficial for the community as a whole.
“Even if I didn’t talk to any community members, just going around there and seeing the fellowship they have together. People spend the whole two hours sitting there chatting together and I think that’s invaluable,” Albrecht said.
“You build community through mutual understanding,” Foster-Bolton said.