400 homeless women and kids without hot meals? Not if these cooks can help it

The Oinker food truck helps to feed homeless

The Improper Pig helps to feed residents at the Salvation Army Center of Hope during kitchen renovation
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The Improper Pig helps to feed residents at the Salvation Army Center of Hope during kitchen renovation

Some of the best food in Charlotte has found its way to the city’s homeless women and children in recent days, thanks to a rush of emergency support from restaurants, catering services, food trucks and churches.

The act of kindness was in response to a call for help from the Salvation Army Center of Hope, which has been without stoves or refrigerators for a week.

It’s a predicament that is unavoidable, because of a long overdue renovation of the shelter’s kitchen. The work, paid for by donations, began March 13. The Salvation Army couldn’t afford to have meals catered, which meant the possibility of serving only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for eight days.

People such as Will Bigham and Christopher Soto kept that from happening, however.

On Tuesday, the two pulled up into the parking lot of the shelter with their Stomp/Chomp/Roll food truck (called “the Oinker”), and began serving the kind of food homeless women and children only dream of. Made-from-scratch baked ziti, barbeque smoked for 12 hours and hand pulled, homemade macaroni and cheese, salads, cold slaw and special sauces and dressings.

The truck fed about 150 people, from toddlers to grandmothers. No one paid a dime.

“We gave them a choice of the baked ziti or the barbeque, but some wanted a combination of both,” said Bigham, a restaurateur known for The Pizza Peel & Tap Room and The Improper Pig.

“I see what we’re doing as spreading love to people in need. There’s no better way to bring people together than to share a meal.”

Salvation Army officials said they needed about 25 meals covered in all, and someone volunteered in every case, including Myers Park United Methodist Church, True Pizza Truck and ERD’s Eatery & Catering.

Two anonymous donors also came forward to cover a $60,000 gap in the money needed to finish the renovation.

The $150,000 project comes at a time when the 25-year-old shelter is inundated with homeless families, hosting about 400 people a night (half of them children). That’s about 60 over capacity. Those people without beds sleep on the floor.

A volunteer group called Kairos organized the project campaign. Kairos is made up of 13 women who have been showing up once a month for 13 years to buy and cook a homemade dinner for families in the shelter.

Many of the donations were made in honor of group member Sheila Tuttle, a Charlotte business owner who has been recognized by the Salvation Army as one of its most outstanding volunteers.

If all goes as planned, the new kitchen will reopen Monday, though ovens and fryers may not be installed until Wednesday.

Major Larry Broome, area commander for The Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte, says the entire project has been taken care of largely by average people doing whatever they could afford. That impresses him.

“This is all happening because of small scale donations of $25 or $50,” he said.

“It really is a grassroots project involving individuals and small groups who came together and made a big difference. That really says a lot about the generosity about this community.”

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