Bank employees help feed their community

Photo by Karin Elton Six Minnwest Bank employees volunteered Monday at Christ United Presbyterian Church, where Esther’s Kitchen is hosted. Under Site Coordinator Cindy Austin’s direction, Al Blanker, Cami Hoover, Jeff Hoover, Josh Lawrenz, Stella Miller and Jason Minnett chopped cabbage and sliced onions among other food preparation activities to provide the evening’s free meal to anywhere from 50 to 75 Marshall area residents.

MARSHALL — Bank employees are used to dealing with the green stuff, but Monday’s medium was a little different. The green stuff in question was fruits and vegetables.

The team chopped cabbage and onions and sliced turkey and cheese. Six Minnwest employees volunteered Monday afternoon at Esther’s Kitchen by Loaves & Fishes which is hosted by Christ United Presbyterian Church in Marshall.

Esther’s Kitchen offers free, nutritious meals from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday at Christ United Presbyterian Church on Lyon Street.

Site Coordinator Cindy Austin recently prepared turkey, garlic mashed potatoes, Southern-fried cabbage and sweet corn with the help of her kitchen crew.

Monday was the group’s first time volunteering at Esther’s Kitchen. Two more teams from Minnwest will volunteer this week as well. The company encourages volunteering and allocates a certain amount of hours for volunteering in the community, said Minnwest employee Cami Hoover.

Volunteering at Esther’s Kitchen is a great opportunity for team-building, said Cathy Maes, Loaves & Fishes executive director.

“It’s an incredible team-building experience,” Maes said. “You leave your office behind and work together in a new way. It’s a great opportunity for businesses to have volunteers come in and help feed their community.”

Esther’s Kitchen by Loaves & Fishes feeds between 50 to 75 Marshall area residents four evenings a week.

“A high percentage of seniors are dining,” Maes said. “They get a meal with fresh fruit and vegetables and a lean protein.”

The meals are helping older people “age in place,” Maes said.

Loaves & Fishes has been asked to expand its program.

“We’ve had requests to provide take-home meals,” she said. “People say, ‘I’d like to bring a meal back to my spouse.'”

Maes said there are extra costs to that such as the containers so additional funding would be needed.

In addition to getting a good meal, there is the added benefit of camaraderie.

“We also provide comfort and kindness,” Maes said. For some, the hour or hour-and-a-half they spend at Esther’s Kitchen might be the only time of day they are talking to someone. “We need to be with people.”

In addition to helping prep the meal for Esther’s Kitchen diners, the Minnwest volunteers helped make snacks for about 50 kids in the after-school program at the Marshall Area YMCA, Maes said.

“They cut up turkey and cheese and made peanut butter sandwiches,” she said. Providing snacks “helps the Y save money on food costs. They are great partners. We’ve partnered with them for three years.”

There is also a summer program that Loaves & Fishes provides food for.

“There are 100 children in that program,” Maes said.

Maes said “with the support of our Marshall partners, we have served over 6,000 meals at Esther’s Kitchen and over 8,000 meals and snacks at the YMCA in 2018 alone.”

Loaves & Fishes is headquartered in Minneapolis, but Maes was in Marshall Monday and Tuesday to check in with Esther’s Kitchen and have a meeting with Y personnel. Loaves & Fishes provides meals to those in need in seven Minnesota counties. Locally, the program is supported by the United Way of Southwest Minnesota.