New kitchen opens at Bridgton Community Center

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

DREAM COME TRUE — Longtime Senior Lunch volunteer, Joyce Nowell, stands in front of the gleaming stainless steel stove in the new commercial kitchen at the Bridgton Community Center.

For years, the tiny but fierce beating heart that kept alive the weekly senior lunches at the Bridgton Community Center was a kitchen no bigger than a utility closet.

In that small space, Ingrid von Kannewurff worked her magic, using recipes from her native Germany to bring ‘em back for more each week. The program grew to become the most popular and successful offering at the former National Guard armory on Depot Street.

Today, a huge walk-in cooler fills the former kitchen space. Nearby is a huge oven, with gleaming stainless steel, that alone is nearly as big as the kitchen once was. More stainless steel gleams from sinks to one side and an industrial dishwasher on the other, centered by a preparation table from which Head Chef Gail Hastings last week was busy preparing a meal of macaroni and cheese, beet salad and spiced pudding squares.

“You can throw a lot of functions here now,” said Sophie Yindra, peering from the hallway through the serving window to watch Hastings put the finishing touches on that week’s meal. Yindra still remembers von Kannewurff’s meals. “Those German dishes, they were wonderful. We all looked forward to her cooking.”

The modern commercial kitchen, financed by a $50,000 Community Development Block Grant from the town, began serving meals the week before Christmas. It opens up significant revenue-producing opportunities for the center, which is now able to hold cooking classes and receive a $2-per-person subsidy from the Southern Maine Agency on Aging for the Senior Meal Program.

A SPECIAL SOCIAL TIME — Bridgton Community Center Executive Director Carmen Lone, standing, talks to a neighbor during last week’s Senior Lunch.

Community Center Executive Director, Carmen Lone, in fact, was busy in the dining area passing out agency reimbursement forms to the 35 or so people sitting at long tables, waiting to be served by the volunteers who have kept the program going for nearly six years. Newcomers signed in and stuffed three one-dollar bills into the wooden donation box before finding a seat.

If money is short, no one forces payment. But the meals aren’t so much about feeding the hungry as they are about feeding the heart. It’s a social ritual that’s found a firm place for many seniors in town.

Lone called for quiet to make an announcement. A very special volunteer, Joyce Nowell, was in attendance after a long absence. Nowell fell and fractured the vertebrae in her lower back last August, and this was the first time she’d felt fit enough to attend.

“It’s so great to see everybody,” said Nowell. “I’m just a volunteer, helping to get the tables set up and have things ready on time and make sure everybody gets fed. I’ve been doing it for at least five years and I  love every minute of it.”

Nowell’s first stop upon her return was to see the new kitchen. “It’s a dream come true,” she said, standing in front of the huge stove. “For years we were working in what I call the broom closet.”

Then the meals were rolled out on paper plates, and passed around by volunteers Jeffry Hanscom and Allen Curtis. Near the piano, longtime volunteer Donald MacLean sat across from Nowell. He asked her if his wife Barbara MacLean, another founding volunteer, would mind if he had seconds. Nowell told him to go for it.

“I used to set up for 56 people — once we had 70 people and we had to have them in the hallways,” said Nowell. She pointed up the table to a man wearing a clerical collar. “That’s Father Craig Hacker, from St. Peter’s (Episcopal Church). He’s here just about every week.”

Mac Lean nodded. “It’s not unusual to see the other ministers or the Catholic priest,” he said.

“They know where the good food is,” said Nowell.

Beside Nowell, part-time clerical worker Lorraine Goldrup nodded assent. “We call it the best-kept secret in Bridgton, but we don’t want it to be. We want it to be a warm and welcoming place.”

Sounds of laughter and chatting filled the room, seeming to say, mission accomplished.

“It’s a friendly place to come to,” said Nowell. “If you didn’t have a friend when you came in, you had one when you went out.”

Lone said the senior meals, held each Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m., were the first project of the Community Center. At first, only four people came. Now, however, “This is probably the most successful program the Community Center’s ever had,” she said.

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