Generous gifts from area businesses honored a Huntingdon man and aided the Community Soup Kitchen at the Huntingdon Presbyterian Church in continuing the mission of providing a place for food and fellowship to those in need.

The newly-renovated kitchen made possible by Sheetz, with new flooring provided by Fike Brothers, was dedicated Thursday night in honor of Jim Kalos for his 46 years of service at Sheetz.

“I was very moved and pleased, but totally blindsided,” Kalos said, as he had attended the meal not knowing he was the honoree. “I’m so pleased that Sheetz did this. I thought it was exceptional. It’s touching. They’ve been a good company to work for and even though I’m retired, they still treat me very well and are very generous.”

Every Thursday, the basement of the Huntingdon Presbyterian Church becomes something of a robust family reunion under the leadership of co-directors Michele Rupert and Amy Yocum, as around 100 people fill the tables awaiting the hot and delicious meal prepared by volunteers, but deficiencies in the kitchen were impeding preparation and service.

“The convection over worked when it felt like it. The electric stove we had, it had six burners that were all crooked,” Rupert said. “It would be nothing to take two hours to get a pot of water to boil.”

With a large crowd to feed each week, Rupert and Yocum began to explore ways to make improvements to the facility and sent out a plea for help.

“It started a week before Christmas. I sent out an email in October to Joe Sheetz, who is the president. He forwarded it to Travis Sheetz and he contacted me to tell me they would be more than interested to help,” she said. “We told them we needed a convection oven, a six-burner gas range with an oven — we had electric and we wanted to convert it. We wanted a three-bay sink.”

Sheetz sent a representative to visit the facility, take an inventory of what was needed and obtain measurements of the kitchen.

“He took that back and they had a meeting and they called me and told me they would be doing it all,” said Rupert. “They did all that we asked for and gave us a free-standing griddle, a garbage disposal, a table and they ran the gas line for us. They did the electrical work and the plumbing. We didn’t pay a cent.”

The kitchen flooring also needed to be replaced, and the co-directors reached out to Fike Brothers for an estimate.

“We knew we were going to need to redo the floor because we had to take out the island. I went to Fike Brothers to tell them what was going on and what Sheetz was doing and wondered if there was anything they could do to give us a break,” she said. “They came in an measured and told us they would donate all of the materials.”

After a whirlwind demolition session conducted by Rupert, Yocum and their families in mid-December to prepare for the work, the kitchen began to take shape quickly and was used for the first time Jan. 3.

“When they told us at the beginning of December that everything was a go, I thought they would wait to do the work until after the first of the year,” said Rupert. “They said no. They wanted to get everything done before Christmas.”

The origins of the soup kitchen trace back over 16 years, when founding volunteers Jane Brown, the Rev. Richard Gardiner, Robert and Janet Rudy, Alice Heine and Ruth and James Jackson officially launched the program designed to care for those in need in the community.

“It’s like a family. We all know one another. They feel comfortable to come and talk to us,” she said. “We try to help and point them in the right direction as far as what needs done and what help they need.”

April can be reached at afeagley@huntingdondailynews.com.

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