By Lauren Wanko
Sauce sizzles over the flames as waiters carry savory dishes to hungry patrons.
But the kitchen staff isn’t working for tips. They’re all volunteering at Spoon Full of Hope, a community restaurant in Union Beach.
“Everyone just works together. It’s like teamwork. It’s like family,” said volunteer Sharen Sacchi.
“The idea is that we want to encourage the community to build up itself by either volunteering or helping to pay it forward for someone else,” said Gateway Church of Christ Pastor Carl Williamson.
Patrons here pay either $10 per person or volunteer their time for an hour. If they do that, they’re given a dining certificate. It’s essentially a meal pass for five people.
“It’s a hand-up. So they come in and they can wash dishes or they can wash the windows, clean the floor, help set up, help service, clean up,” said Gigi Dorr.
Business Owner Dorr launched Spoon Full of Hope in her restaurant last year.
“It was slow for business so I just felt it was a great opportunity to help the community,” she said.
Volunteers served patrons in this storm-ravaged town twice a week.
“And then we had to shut down unfortunately. We didn’t have the finances to keep going,” Williamson said.
“It’s sort of as we need it. And so far they’ve given us just over $3,000 and then as we need it, this year they’re providing for the upkeep of the Spoon Full of Hope,” Williamson said.
Dinner’s served every Wednesday night from 5 to 7 at the Union Hose Fire Company. It’s a three-course meal with selections like this vegetable stir fry or chicken dish. Kids eat for a $5 donation.
You think 6-year-old Keira Leverock liked it?
“It tasted good. With the sauce and the meatballs, I really liked the meatballs,” she said.
Nico Gladfelter is dining with his family because he volunteered to create the restaurant’s website, which is where volunteers sign up for duty.
“It just makes me feel good knowing that I’m helping somewhere where there may be lacking. I’m helping to spread the word of Spoon Full,” he said.
“I think it’s self-dignity and pride, you know, it’s your able to help one another and I’ve always said you walk away with a pep in your step,” said Dorr.
Since Superstorm Sandy hit, so many residents still need that help as they rebuild.
“A lot of people aren’t in their homes yet and they can’t afford it,” said Ruth Sutter.
“I know of a family that’s living on peanut butter and jelly two and three nights a week so how nice is it to bring them here and give them a hot meal?” asked Sandra Siegle.
Others come for the sense of community.
“I think it’s good for the town. I think it keeps the spirit going,” said Kathy Thorpe.
Keira did have her dessert. No doubt she’ll be back. Spoon Full of Hope hopes all these patrons keep coming back too. Coordinators eventually want to find a permanent location and open a few more days a week.