For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Matthew 25:35
The story of First Nations Kitchen (FNK) is interwoven with that of the St. John’s community. During the 1980’s a Dakota woman, Melanie Spears. was supported for ordination to the priesthood by this parish, and in 1991 she joined Rev. Philip Allen (Pine Ridge Lakota) at All Saints Indian Mission, as an Associate Pastor. That parish and she had a vision of being a place called to feed the hungry residents of the local indigenous housing community, Little Earth of the United Tribes, as well as their other hungry or lonely neighbors.
Financial support from a Jubilee Grant and many local parishes, including St. John’s, funded a top to bottom renovation of the church, including the installation of a commercial kitchen designed by a parishioner of St. John’s who was an architect. Unfortunately, by the time all of the renovations were completed in 2000, Mother Melanie was ill and needed to retire.
During the late 90’s and the early 2000’s (when All Saints had interim clergy) some St. John’s folk will remember that they volunteered for monthly soup kitchens or food pantries at All Saints, but the vision of a weekly feeding ministry remained and was finally fully realized when the Reverend Robert Two Bulls came to serve as vicar. Since All Saints Day in 2008, First Nations Kitchen has provided wholesome, mostly organic, indigenous food every Sunday with a two month break in 2020 while the leadership team regrouped in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
FNK is a justice-focused, gospel-based ministry led by indigenous people for indigenous people. The goal is to make high-quality, fresh, organic food accessible to all along with cultural empowerment and radical hospitality. Meals are planned with an eye toward duplicating ancestral foods of the indigenous peoples of this region: the Dakota and the Anishinabe. These foods include venison, bison, turkey, lake and river fish, and wild rice, supplemented with fruits and vegetables their ancestors might have eaten. In addition, a vegetarian or vegan option is always available.
On Sunday evenings before the pandemic, FNK guests were served at tables on dishes as if in a restaurant or family home. Volunteer servers took turns sitting to eat with guests and getting to know them. Meals were prepared earlier in the day by a different team of volunteers. When they left, guests were encouraged to take home leftover food and to pick up fresh organic fruits and vegetables they found on tables in an adjoining space. During those years, St. John’s provided volunteers once a month during odd-numbered months.
In June of 2020, food distribution on Sunday evenings resumed in the form of large bags of organic produce that had been donated by local co-ops and farmers. Bags packed by volunteers early on Sunday afternoon and distributed outside by other volunteers in the late afternoon. Within a month or so, “To Go” meals – both with and without animal protein – were added to the Give Away. On a typical Sunday 50 or more bags of produce, 120 meat meals and 60 vegetarian meals are distributed. Again, St. John’s volunteers have assisted with this effort and we continue to do so, now on a monthly basis. We have been there rain or shine, in heat or extreme cold, as have our guests, who are always deeply appreciative of this generous gift provided by the combined efforts of All Saints Episcopal Mission and its cooperating volunteers.
For three years just before and during the pandemic, St. John’s increased its financial support for FNK by providing interns from Circle of the Beloved who enhanced FNK’s social media presence and functioned as administrative assistants. More recently we contributed funds to install a walk-in refrigerator for storage of all of the fresh food donated by local farmers including Good Courage Farm.
FNK hopes to resume some hybrid of sit-down meals and Give Away later this summer. A few things are certain: many hungry people will come, much food will be donated or purchased from indigenous and local sources, and MANY volunteers will be needed to sustain this web of relationships. Please join the regular volunteers from St. John’s and experience the pleasures of meeting and serving our neighbors and guests at FNK.
We still need volunteers to serve during both times this Sunday, June 11.
If you are able to help with either the prep shift (12:30-3) or the giveaway shift (3:30 to 5:30) please sign up here, on the chart pad in the Gathering Space, or by contacting Caron Stebinger or JoAnn Blatchley.