@story MARLA CANTRELL
@images COURTESY OF TRINITY EPISCOPAL CATHEDRAL
Each month, in our Ignite series, we’re taking a look at ideas for making our world a better place.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral is an imposing structure, built in the 1888, shaped like a crucifix, the nave illuminated with sparkling light that flows through achingly beautiful stained glass. There are apostles in the windows on one side, and prophets on the other, so that as you walk down the center aisle it’s as if these men of old are watching every step.
Sixteen hundred Little Rock parishioners call Trinity home. Their mission is simple: come together each Sunday and do something beautiful that connects them to God. And when that’s over, go out into the world to serve. The beauty here is evident, but where’s the service?
To see an example you have to show up on a weekday, in the commercial kitchen that used to feed the students who attended Trinity’s private school. But the school disbanded in May, 2011, after fifty-four years, when enrollment dwindled and funding was growing increasingly hard to find.
Reverend Stephen Kidd remembers the day they decided to shut the doors. “We went through all the stages of grief,” he says. “We mourned, we bargained, we accepted. But our story is about death and resurrection. We saw ourselves at a crossroads. We asked, what’s next? What does the neighborhood need?”
It just so happened that the neighborhood was in the midst of a revival. Small businesses were moving in, boarded up storefronts were going away, and everywhere the creative spark was igniting. In September of 2011, Stephen approached the owners of the nearby Root Café, whose entire menu comes from food grown on thirty-three farms from across the state, to see if they might need an extra state licensed kitchen.
They did not, but they were being inundated with requests from others who did. They told Stephen about Kent Walker, an artisan cheese maker, the only one in the state, who desperately needed a space for his shop.
Stephen spoke to Dean Jonathon Jensen. The two thought Kent would be a perfect tenant for Trinity’s Community Kitchen. “I talked to them, and since it was a brand new idea, they offered me six months free rent. At that moment I was in,” Kent says, while stirring twenty-five gallons of Coleman milk into a repurposed soup cauldron. “My first day here as Kent Walker Artisan Cheese was October sixth. When I started I was making one pound at a time. Now I’m doing 125 pounds a week. I’ve made my own Dutch-style cheese press, and just recently the Governor’s Mansion has become a customer. I’m pretty happy about that.”
Stephen speaks up. “We kept wondering why someone else wasn’t doing this. We asked ourselves if there was something really hard about this that we hadn’t considered, so we took on the philosophy that we’d continue to do it until we ran up against an insurmountable obstacle.
Turns out there wasn’t one. A few weeks after Kent came in, Sally Mengle and Rachel Boswell of Loblolly Creamery, walked through the door. Their dream was ice cream, and they needed a place to make it. Four Little Rock businesses now carry their products, including vegan avocado ice cream that sounds bizarre but tastes like a little bit of Heaven. “We couldn’t have done this without this place,” Rachel says.
Soon after, Leah Greenfield, a mother of two, knocked on Trinity’s door. She needed a place for her baking business, Pie in the Sky. And then Diane Rose, owner of Farm 2 Work, an online farmer’s market, showed up. She didn’t need the kitchen, just the loading dock and cafeteria. Each week, twelve local farmers deliver everything from fruits and vegetables to herbs and eggs. On Wednesdays, Diane fills the orders, using the long tables to do so. She and a volunteer then deliver the bags to customers at their places of work.
“I’m a single mom,” Diane says. “It used to be that on Saturdays I’d try to get to the farmer’s market, but I was usually late and I’d end up with the scraps, if I made it at all. I wasn’t the only one in my office who had this problem, so I knew there was a need for a service like Farm 2 Work. Also, I wanted to eat fresh, local food, but I was too busy to get it. Now, I eat better. My daughter’s eating better. I’m there to pick her up from school. There was a time when she was eating boxed cereal and ramen noodles, when I was working fifty or sixty hours a week.
“I know what it means to get to be there in the mornings and to pick my daughter up from school. I have an elderly mother I can now take to her appointments. I never could have afforded to get my own place – at one point I was working out of my dining room and living room. This has changed my life.”
Stephen picks up the conversation. “Our newest member is Sharea Wheeler. Her business is Sharea Soup. She told me what starting her own business has meant to her. She’s no longer worrying about job security, about being in a place where she could be downsized, and in this economy that brings her a lot of comfort.”
Sharea also has a group of likeminded people to help her. The shops at the Community Kitchen hold regular meetings to discuss schedules and boost one another’s confidence. They’ve not done much advertising – most depend on active Facebook updates – but they’re all growing. The rent and utility fee they pay is about twenty-five percent of what it would cost them to do business in any other location, so their profit margins are much higher than other startups.
With small businesses accounting for sixty to eighty percent of all new jobs created in the last decade, what the Community Kitchen is doing is right on target. But that’s not Trinity’s primary goal. “We believe that God is seeking reconciliation,” Stephen says. “If people have enough to eat, if people have a secure place to live, if people aren’t afraid of losing their jobs, then reconciliation is possible. People can live a peaceful life with each other that improves everybody’s life. Hope, and promise, and dignity, that’s what we want for everyone. All these people were already working really hard. We just gave them a little help.”
Jonathon is sitting beside Stephen, nodding in agreement. “We didn’t do all that much,” he adds. “This,” he says, pointing to the tables where Diane is checking her orders, “is all God’s work. We just haven’t messed it up yet.”
There it is, the real beauty of Trinity. It is in the cheese Kent ages, in the soup Sharea simmers, in the ice cream Rachel makes, in the pies Leah bakes, and in the vegetables Diane delivers to the tall buildings in the heart of the city.
Stephen and Jonathon look around the kitchen that is loud with clanging pots. In the background, music plays, the beat thrumming through the cavernous space. Jonathon poses this question: “How many churches have large, untapped kitchens like ours that sit unused most of the time?” Who knows the answer? But this much is certain: they are out there. And if they open their doors, great people with good ideas will find the hope they’ve been looking for to start a new life.
“We thought it would take us a year to fill the kitchen,” Stephen says. “It took us six months, and we never advertised. Everyone here came to us,” he adds, and then smiles, not exactly surprised, but instead comforted by the way God guided their entire plan.Check out each of the shops at Trinity’s Community Kitchen by searching their business names on Facebook.