Dinners: Pay what you can
Friendship food Fine dining on pay-what-you-can basis helps Manheim Township church foster fellowship BY CINDY STAUFFER, Staff Writer
The food is a cut above: ravioli with saut'ed spinach, bacon and apple, salads topped with homemade raspberry vinaigrette and gooey, nut-encrusted turtle cheesecake.
The setting is strictly Lancaster County church basement: long tables with folding chairs on a tile floor laid with a shuffleboard court.
The crowd is diverse: three cooks in purple bandannas serving a disabled veteran, an extended family, a cluster of work friends, a quiet couple which sits at their own table and three girls giggling about what somebody said about cute boys at a Girl Scout sleepover.
Kitschy Kitchen is a new Thursday night meal program offered at 6:30 p.m. at Long Memorial United Methodist Church, just south of Neffsville on Route 501 in Manheim Township.
The mission of this program is simple.
All are welcome. Pay what you can. Leave as a friend.
"We decided to do this as a way for big families and for people who might like to go out to eat, but don't have a lot of money or don't have money at all, to get a decent, home-cooked meal," says Laniesh Kipp, one of the founders of the program.
"Community is what we are striving for," she says.
The program attracts people who can't pay a lot and people who can, all who are digging the interesting variety of meals, which have included a Greek night, featuring spanakopita and baklava, and a comfort food night, featuring pierogies and whoopie pies.
The mix of customers means it all sort of evens out in the end, with the program consistently making enough to fund the next week's offering (soul food night and Cinco de Mayo food are in the future).
Kipp runs the program with two of her husband's cousins, Marla Kipp, of Ephrata, and Jenn Kipp, of Lancaster.
A mother of three young boys, Laniesh Kipp is a member of Long Memorial. The seeds for Kitschy Kitchen were planted a while back, she says, when she began a free bread night on the second and fourth Fridays at Long Memorial, handing out donations from area supermarkets.
Some people were surprised to hear about the giveaway at the church, which is in the heart of one of the county's wealthier suburbs.
"They were like, there's needy people there? Yes, absolutely," Kipp says.
Then Kipp and her husband's cousins, who all like to cook and had done a benefit dinner together, started talking.
"I said, 'I'd really like to have my own restaurant, to have a pay-what-you-can restaurant,' " Kipp says.
Rocker Jon Bon Jovi has a similar operation in New Jersey, called Soul Kitchen, advertised as a place for those who are hungry or those who hunger to make a difference in their community. Kipp also heard about other ventures that were started in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
About 25 people attended the first meal, on Valentine's Day of this year.
A steady group of regulars now shows up, including people who know the cooks socially or from work, church members and hungry people who have fallen on tough economic times.
They wander in, in twos and threes, stopping to stuff donations into an unmanned plastic pitcher, set up so that only the donor knows what is given.
Lawrence Iorio lives a half-block from the church and is a member there.
"The food is really good and the fellowship is even better," says Iorio, a disabled veteran. "It's unique."
The Kipp women serve the meal personally, taking items out on trays, stopping to put an arm around someone and chat and laugh with guests.
It's clear that there is more than just food that is being shared here.
"They are kind," Iorio says. "They are gentle and sincere. They take an interest in you and care about you."
Church member Holly Stapleton of Lititz is a regular, along with her 12-year-old daughter, Allyson.
"I think it's a good concept," she says, adding she hopes the program grows. "The biggest challenge is getting the word out to people who need it."
Sharing a meal is an intimate and basic way to connect with someone, says the Rev. Len Calhoun, Long Memorial's pastor, who eats a bite with Iorio.
Noting the mix of people at the tables, he smiles and says, "It probably looks a little bit like heaven."
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