The staff and volunteers at Cosgrove’s Soup Kitchen have a newly renovated kitchen to serve meals, but they also are now following new rules for donated food that is “desperately” needed.
The soup kitchen, which is operated by the St. Vincent de Paul Belleville Council and serves 200 to 300 free meals a day Monday to Saturday, has received help for 11 years from a band of metro-east volunteers known as “Cosgrove’s Kitchen Keepers.” Some of these volunteers would make homemade casseroles and other items for the soup kitchen.
But now all donated food must be prepared in a kitchen that is inspected by a public health department.
“Everybody that has been participating in the Kitchen Keepers program has been very, very cooperative as far as complying with the new rules,” said Pat Hogrebe, executive director of the St. Vincent de Paul Belleville Council.
“They’re going to their parishes to prepare the food … or in a facility that is inspected and then donating the food. Those that are not able to do that are participating in the other part of the program, which is providing paper goods and already prepared items for our facility,” she said.
“We need these desperately,” Hogrebe said. “We go through a tremendous amount of food and supplies to feed the 200 to 300 people a day. And most of the people that come here to eat rely tremendously on that meal that we provide.”
Myla Blandford, assistant administrator for the East Side Health District, said any group that distributes food to the public, even it is free, must serve food prepared in a kitchen that has been inspected. That is part of the state and federal food code, she said.
Hogrebe, who started the Kitchen Keepers program shortly after she was named executive director of the St. Vincent de Paul Belleville Council 11 years ago, said many of the food donations received come from restaurants, which are inspected by health departments.
Hogrebe said when the renovated soup kitchen was being inspected earlier this year, she inquired about the food code overseeing donated food and realized that she would have to change the rules for the Kitchen Keepers.
Here are some of the ways she suggests volunteers in the Kitchen Keepers can continue to help:
▪ Get a group together and make casseroles or other food in a permitted school or parish kitchen.
▪ Encourage parish members to donate pre-made frozen casseroles purchased from a store.
▪ Donate items from the soup kitchen’s “wish list,” such as large cans of tuna, ground beef in pre-packaged rolls, packages of cookies, large jars of salad dressing, fresh and canned fruit, napkins, liquid soap, plastic reclosable bags, paper towels, toilet paper, laundry detergent, bleach and aluminum foil.
Hogrebe said the soup kitchen strives to serve healthy meals that feature low-sodium and low-sugar items.
“We try to feed people like they would want to eat at home.”
Renovations and remodeling
The St. Vincent de Paul center at 3718 State St. in East St. Louis has undergone a massive renovation in its building that once was a grocery store.
Hogrebe and Joe Hubbard, vice president of the St. Vincent de Paul Belleville Council, said they are grateful for all of the donations and volunteer construction workers who made it possible for the renovations at the St. Vincent de Paul building in East St. Louis.
Donations for the project are still being collected and are expected to top out at $400,000.
For Hubbard’s 75th birthday party in December, the council received $166,000 in donations.
The renovations unveiled earlier this year include new flooring, a new heating and cooling system and new electrical wiring. The enlarged kitchen has all new appliances, a walk-in freezer and cooler and new plumbing. The dining room, thrift store and outreach ministry center have been updated and the center has new laundry and shower facilities.
Hubbard, who recently retired as executive director of Catholic Urban Programs, which is separate group from St. Vincent de Paul, said the center aims to aid needy and homeless people and “do something that stabilizes their lives and their families.”
For instance, he said the center will give bus passes to people who need them to get to their doctor or job.
The center offers regular “question-and-answer” sessions for people who need help with all sorts of issues.
“We do a lot of helping people help themselves,” Hubbard said.
The center also offers Bible study and a prayer every day at noon.
“We are a faith-based organization,” Hogrebe said. “Everything we do is centered around bringing God and seeing the face of Christ in the person that we’re helping.”
How to help
Cosgrove's Soup Kitchen at 3718 State St. in East St. Louis needs donations of food prepared in a permitted kitchen. It also needs items such as canned foods and paper goods.
▪ Info: 618-394-0126 or svdpsouthil.org