FIT FOR A KING
Soup kitchen: Tourism board CEO oversees gourmet meal preparation Food drive: Board follows through on pledge to pope to help end hunger
It smelled for all the world like Thanksgiving Day at Siloam Baptist Church soup kitchen on Friday morning.
But it was a chicken, not a turkey, roasting in the oven, under the watchful culinary eye of Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board CEO and occasional chef Mike Bowman.
Bowman had enlisted the help of student chefs from the Culinary Arts Institute of Montgomery County Community College and his own tourism board staff to help prepare and serve a gourmet-style meal for the soup kitchen guests, culminating the promise of an aggressive Freedom From Hunger food drive.
“I told them that whatever they had at the soup kitchen I would make work, and they had chicken, so we made a slow-roasted, pan-seared chicken,” said Bowman, who honed his cooking skills at such iconic restaurants as the Parker House in Boston and the Fontainebleau in Florida.
Rounding out the menu were salad, grilled
vegetables, wild mushroom ragout and brownies and ice cream for dessert.
“It was fun cooking again. I cook at home sometimes and I love to grill,” Bowman said. “The timing was perfect … the food was hot, the flavors were there and we all had a great time, and it’s very fulfilling to do something like this. We thought there would be 30 or 40 people, but over 50 people came for the meal.”
It’s tough to predict how many will show up for the Friday lunch each week, noted Tammy Thompson, who directs the Meals of Hope Ministry here.
“We prepare for 50 and sometimes we can offer seconds to people. We do average about 30 or 40 people,” noted Thompson, whose husband, Percy, is the regular soup kitchen chef.
The tourism board is in the midst of a drive to raise 1,776 pounds of food in Montgomery County, following through on a promise to Pope Francis in 2015 to address
the local hunger need on a yearly basis in the Pontiff’s name.
“It just made sense,” Bowman said of the food drive. “The suggestions were all around stuff. But Pope Francis wasn’t about stuff. He was about care for the poor. So we established a food drive around his visit and gave him a proclamation that announced it as a yearly show of support.”
Philabundance is the tourism board’s “boots on the ground in getting all those food donations to one central point and then getting them back out into the county where they’re needed,” noted the tourism board’s marketing director, Dan Weckerly. “We just didn’t have the resources to get the food to where it needed to be.”
Sean Breslin of Philabundance noted: “Through Philabundance I lead the Montco Anti-Hunger Network, a coalition of large food pantries in Montgomery County. We’re happy to come out support Valley Forge Tourism for this event and we’re thrilled for the help.”
Pastor John H. West III reflected on the soup kitchen’s consistency in getting food
on the table for those who need it.
“We’ve had this ministry for almost 20 years now, in which we invite people from the community to come in and we share with them a good meal, a good message and some good music,” he said. “We’re just happy that people in the community, many of whom are having hard times and difficult times, can sit and relax in a socially warm environment and hopefully send some of the Christian spirit that we hope to emulate in some of our activities here.”
Siloam Baptist Church is currently in the middle of a $1 million renovation project.
“We’re putting up a building that will allow us to expand our services to the community,” West said. “We are intentionally not building a sanctuary. What we are doing is attempting to help the community at large. We’re doing this in difficult times, but we serve a great God who will provide. And if anybody wants to help us, we’re open to their contributions at 1329 Willow St., Norristown.”
For more information on Freedom From Hunger, visit valleyforge.org/hunger.
Helping to prepare a gourmet meal at Siloam Baptist Church soup kitchen Friday, Sept. 30, 2016, are, from left, Angela Ciliberto Lutz, David Seidenberg, Mike Bowman, Melanie Hagen, Jessica Jacobs and Taylor Tropea.
A Montgomery County Community College Culinary Arts Institute student puts the finishing touches on a platter to be served at the Siloam Baptist Church soup kitchen on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016.