Community kitchen opens in Norway

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NORWAY – The Progress Center’s community kitchen opened Thursday afternoon, bringing to the area opportunities for economic growth and food for those in need.

Scores of local and state leaders, area residents and Progress Center consumers participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house at  35 Cottage St. The facility includes a state-of-the-art kitchen, commercial food storage and space for 200 patrons to dine three times per week for free.

“We’ve been working all week,” said Bill, a Progress Center consumer who was out early Thursday morning weeding the grounds in preparation for the afternoon event.

The facility was developed through a $240,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development program, the Department of Economic and Community Development, and funding from many private organizations and individuals.

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“This new space will offer economic growth opportunities to local farmers and others wishing to expand their businesses and product line,”  Congressman Michael Michaud, D-Maine, said as he helped cut the ribbon.

“This community kitchen also represents another step forward for the Progress Center’s core mission. It will expand opportunities to those with disabilities while at the same time providing food for those who need it most,” he said.

Priscilla Burnette of the Progress Center said the idea for a community kitchen started in 2008 when employee Liz Blaquiere recognized that more and more local people were struggling as the businesses they worked for downsized or closed down. Blaquiere made a compelling case for a volunteer kitchen to serve more than 125 people free meals each week, she said.

Burnette said as plans were developed to build a permanent solution to help the needy, farmers and small businesses suggested they could supplement their incomes if only they had access to a licensed kitchen facility.

Burnette said the community kitchen will provide farmers and other entrepreneurs with space for anything from the production of jams and breads to cake decorators and caterers.

“As our community kitchen program grows to 600 meals per week and develops other shared-use projects, we foresee as many as 30 individuals with disabilities will be gainfully employed or retained as volunteers, with all enjoying the well-being and self-confidence that comes from having a job and knowing you’ve done it well,” Burnette said in a statement this week.

Dennis Gray of the United Way and Oxford County Commissioner Caldwell Jackson called the new kitchen “a wonderful asset” for the community as they joined the celebration Thursday.

“In these tough economic times, this sense of community is especially important,” Michaud said.

Burnette said funding came from many sources, including: Advance Auto, Lee Auto Malls, Bancroft Contracting, Paris Farmers Union, Oxford Plains Speedway, Oxford Networks, Katey Coffin, Bisco Property Management, Crossway Family Dental, Erin Bryant and Black Bear Entertainment.ldixon@sunjournal.com

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