Casserole Kitchen was established in March 2009 through a collaborative effort among fifteen local churches in Starkville, Mississippi with the mission to serve hot, nutritious meals to anyone in need at no charge. Casserole Kitchen’s inception is credited to the late Gery Cummings of Starkville, a First Presbyterian Church member who passed away in 2009 after battling cancer. According to Paul Millsaps, Casserole Kitchen’s first chairman, Gery had seen a similar ministry when he lived in New Jersey and felt very strongly about it. After moving to Starkville and joining the First Presbyterian Church, Gery proposed the idea for Casserole Kitchen. Although he faced many challenges along the way, Gery persevered over several years and eventually was successful in getting many of the local churches to buy in to the concept. Although one church didn’t feel like they could solely take on the ministry, Gery made them realize overtime that Casserole Kitchen could be operated through a collaborative effort among multiple churches. Thanks to Gery’s hard work and dedication, Casserole Kitchen emerged soon after he passed away and has been in operation three days a week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday) for the past seven years and ten months.
Serving three hot meals each week, Casserole Kitchen is a true community ministry because it is solely operated by volunteers from the participating churches and additional volunteers from the community periodically. A board of directors is comprised of a chairman and representatives from each church who are responsible for coordinating volunteers from their respective churches throughout the year and securing an annual contribution from their churches to cover the cost of supplies such as paper products and utensils. Each church commits to providing the meal on a certain day of the month (i.e. the first Tuesday of the month) and then volunteers from that church donate, prepare, and serve the hot meals to those in need each month. In the beginning, all three meals were served in the Fellowship Hall of First Presbyterian Church. However, the Saturday meal is now served at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection. Meals are served on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:00 PM to 6:30 PM and on Saturdays from 11:30 AM to 12:00 PM.
Although the ministry emphasizes on helping families with children, it welcomes all who are in need. Casserole Kitchen serves an average of 30 individuals each time and has served over 36,810 meals during its span of service to the Starkville community. Not only does Casserole Kitchen yield benefits to those it serves, it’s ecumenical nature also provides benefits for its volunteers. Churches of different denominations and races come together for a common purpose and their members get to know each other. Each year, approximately 170 volunteers donate about 36 hours of their time to preparing and serving meals to those in need which has accumulated to 47,940 service hours during Casserole Kitchen’s lifetime.
Casserole Kitchen is an amazing ministry serving those in need in the Starkville community. It is truly remarkable what a community can do when its citizens join forces for the greater good. In honor of the organization’s service to the community, Casserole Kitchen received the 2017 Governor’s Initiative for Volunteer Excellence (GIVE) for Outstanding Faith-Based Collaboration Initiative by Volunteer Mississippi and the Mississippi Governor’s Office.