A modest bequest blossomed into an enduring tradition

By on January 29, 2017

Ruthie’s Kitchen serves meals every Tuesday.

When Kill Devil Hills resident Ruthie Rigor died nine years ago, she left a few thousand dollars in her will to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.

The small lump of money didn’t last long, but it didn’t have to. From it an idea was born among parishioners that has blossomed into a community-wide effort to feed the hungry and foster fellowship every week of the year.

And it’s stood the test of time, thanks to the kindness and compassion of a community that cares.

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Ruthie’s Community Kitchen served its first meal in October of 2009 at His Dream Center in Nags Head. More than seven years later, county residents still gather around the table every Tuesday night for a warm meal and connection.

“All are welcome here,” says Gail Leonard, who was one of the founders of Ruthie’s Kitchen. Leonard said there are between 30 and 60 residents who come together every Tuesday night at the table. “We don’t check for food stamps here. Everyone is invited.”

Leonard says the weekly meal doesn’t just help guests with their budgets. It also serves as a chance for many to have a family meal together, play cards, listen to music and spend time together.

“Many families whose members live in different parts of the county come together here on Tuesdays,” said Leonard, adding that church choirs from time to time even come out and sing during the meals.

Leonard is among four primary organizers who coordinate the kitchen, but more than 20 local churches and charity organizations have collaborated by alternating weeks in which they provide the meal and volunteer as servers.

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Niki Taylor is another instrumental volunteer who has been with Ruthie’s Community Kitchen since the beginning and like Leonard, rarely misses a Tuesday. To the regulars, Taylor is the one who the kids gravitate to. “I’ll usually wrangle them up to play games after dinner and there’s a group of us that likes to play cards. We like to get the kids involved in that, too.”

Taylor says the atmosphere of Ruthie’s Community Kitchen is as important to guests as the food. “You can just see that there’s a lot of fellowship here.”

Donations of bread and meat are also distributed during the Tuesday night meals, and guests are welcome to bring leftovers home.

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The commitment among churches and charity groups has been instrumental, Leonard and Taylor pointed out.

“This has become an important outreach for churches,” Taylor said, adding that the volunteers get to know the people who come regularly. Donations from organizations such as the Outer Banks Community Foundation also help with incidental costs such as the rental of the space, beverages and paper goods and plastic utensils.

Leonard said people come to Ruthie’s Community Kitchen from all over the county, including Wanchese, Manteo, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head. And the kitchen is open year-round, which means that whether it’s in the dead of winter or the middle of summer, the door is always open on Tuesday nights at Ruthie’s Kitchen – where residents can enjoy not only the warmth of a good meal, but also the warmth of community.

Ruthie’s Community Kitchen is open every Tuesday evening from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at His Dream Center, located at 205 Baltic Street in Nags Head. No tickets are needed. For more information, visit ruthiescommunitykitchen.com.

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