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Feed Cheney offers dinner, groceries to needy

Feed Cheney is a community-run endeavor that gives a neighborly boost to those who run short on grocery money near the end of the month. The program is moving into a new location, the recently rebuilt Wren Pierson Community Center.

A free dinner, complete with hot entrees, soup, salad, fruit, vegetables, dessert and beverages, is held on the last Monday of each month. Participants enjoy a nice meal with dinner music, and afterward may take home groceries and clothes as well.

All of this is provided courtesy of a host of volunteers and organizations, including the Women’s and Children’s Free Restaurant, Second Harvest, the Cheney Clothing Exchange, Let’s Move Cheney and several Cheney churches.

In addition to the move, director Natalie Tauzin said, “the program is moving toward a more family restaurant style as well, where salad bowls are passed and there’s a whole wait staff that delivers entrées to everyone there. It’s supposed to be something people look forward to, although they are in a tough time. There is such a need right now. There can’t be enough programs to meet the need.”

On average, the program serves 80 people per month, but it has served up to 140 people. That includes a volunteer crew of 30-40 people who eat as well. The service uses an honor system and doesn’t require any paperwork to participate. “We don’t check income or anything like that,” Tauzin said. They serve all ages and have an evenly balanced mix of people, roughly one-third 18 and under, one-third 19 to 55 and one-third over 55.

According to Tauzin, people mark it on their calendars and look forward to being there each month. “We have a wonderful little group of seniors who live in assisted living. They all know each other. It’s a place to come and feel good about yourself; it’s about treating people with dignity and respect,” she said.

Volunteers like Kevin Falconer, also known as the “Kitchen Baron,” are the heart of the place. He has been with Feed Cheney from the beginning and is a chef by training. “He’s had a tough life, has chronic pain and everything else, but he appreciates being able to do this and volunteers his time every month,” Tauzin said.

“I volunteer because I like to do it. Helping other people makes me feel good. When I volunteer it helps undo some of the bad karma in my life,” Falconer said.

They’ve had volunteers as young as 5, up to senior citizens. One Girl Scout troop made table decorations. Tauzin said they are looking for more help like that from kids. High school marching band students, church organists and professional musicians have volunteered, too. Three Eastern Washington University student volunteers will be providing nutrition education with the food distribution, which will include recipes and possibly tastings.

Feed Cheney operates on a lean budget and makes frugal decisions, like using dishes from area churches to keep paper costs down. It relies on the community to keep it going. “We had an unsolicited offer from the Hunger Stomp run to donate half of their proceeds. It’s a run against hunger on October 22,” Tauzin said.