Central City Cafe
Soup Kitchen at Durham Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church
174 E. Eagle Street (corner of Eagle and Michigan), Buffalo
Since Pastor Richard Stewart began Central City Café in November 1990 in the half-basement of Durham Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, his goal was to “give each person a gift of love wrapped in hope and tied off with a smile.” With generous food donations and monetary contributions, Pastor Stewart and the dedicated staff at Central City Café have fulfilled this mission to feed the hungry – whether they are homeless or among the working poor. Each Monday through Friday, a small staff prepares delicious, nutritious lunches that are served to between 125-175 people. Toward the end of the month when food stamps and welfare checks run low, often 250 or more people are served each day.
The lunches are far more than soup. In fact, a sample meal might include baked haddock, seasoned rice, green beans, bread, a piece of fruit, cookies, and coffee. Unlike other soup kitchens in Buffalo, diners are not limited to one serving. Instead, they can ask for as many refills on everything but the dessert as many times as they want!
Each day that meals are served, volunteers from other churches - many of them Methodist congregations from the suburbs but also Lutherans and others - help in the kitchen. In fact, on the third Friday of each month, three volunteers from WUMC work in the soup kitchen from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
The soup kitchen gets some of its food from the local food bank, but much of the operation's support comes from small grants from the city, United Way, and donations from other churches. This combined effort of the staff and volunteers allows Durham Memorial to feed some 40,000 hungry people each year.
In addition to lunches, members and friends of the Durham Memorial church community prepare and serve a complete restaurant-style Thanksgiving dinners to more than 150 people and Christmas dinner to more than 200 people. At the Christmas dinner, each person also receives a gift bag that includes personal care items and usually a piece of winter clothing.
Several years ago, Durham Memorial built a beautiful brick building next to the older church building. This new facility not only houses the soup kitchen, but also includes
- Child Development Center that provides:
- Day care
- Headstart Program
- After School Programs
- Music Lessons
- Showers for homeless
- Information and counseling from organizations such as Legal Aid and the Veterans Administration
I recently spoke with a woman who has volunteered at Central City Café since the day it opened 19 years. When I asked what made her keep going back, she said, “Well, we went to the soup kitchen because there are so many people who don’t have enough to eat. We felt like we were doing a little something to help those who really need it. Of course, there are those who take advantage of the soup kitchen. But the majority of those we watched come in – the grandfather who brought his hungry grandson or the old man in a wheelchair or the homeless man wearing three coats in the summer – made us know it was just the right thing to do. And the way Miss Rose and Johnny Mae can take a can of tomato soup, add a few ingredients, and turn it into a delicious lunch simply amazed us! But truthfully, we mostly did it for ourselves, because each time we went to the soup kitchen, it lightened our hearts and lifted us up higher than we were when we went in. It just made us better people.”
If you are interested in learning more about volunteering at the Central City Café soup kitchen, please contact either Kevin Lyttle or Carol Forden.