Story and photos by Mary Coughlin
UW News Lab
Whether you’re into religion or not, you’re welcome at Annie’s Kitchen. The only requirement: Come hungry.
Annie Fortnum, Bob Snyder and other volunteers work tirelessly from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every Wednesday evening to give people in the community a free, hot meal at Edmonds Lutheran Church. From preparing the meal to serving and doing cleanup, these volunteers find working together very satisfying.
“There is no obligation to go to the church (whether), you volunteer or come to eat. We accept everyone the way they are,” said Fortnum.
In fact, most volunteers and clients are not members of the church. The kitchen has a website with information on how to get involved or attend, but word of mouth is the most common way people hear about it.
Annie Fortnum opened Annie’s Kitchen in 2004 after the kitchen in the church was remodeled. When she isn’t volunteering there, she can be found practicing the harp or working around her house. Her background as a nurse was useful in coordinating this new enterprise.
The first Wednesday night after opening, they cooked for 200 people and only four showed up. As numbers increased, Fortnum moved from feeding people every other week to every week. She realized there were many hungry people depending on them, and they couldn’t wait that long for food. Fortnum had no idea it would grow to be what is it is today, serving 125 to 150 people each week.
Now, volunteers number anywhere from 35 and 50 on a typical Wednesday night. During the rest of the week, at least three or four people volunteer as “gleaners.”
These folks go into local grocery stores to collect food that did not sell. Gleaning is a concept from the Book of Ruth 2 in the Bible, which Fortnum adapted to the volunteers at the kitchen. Gleaners were people that went into the field after the harvest and got all the leftover wheat.
When Snyder joined the kitchen shortly after it opened, he used his background in sales to assemble a group of gleaners. They successfully approached managers at grocery stores and other food sources in the area to deliver their mission and ask them to contribute.
“We always say Bob could talk a person’s shoes off of them. I don’t know what people in the kitchen would do without him,” said Fortnum.
With Snyder’s direction, gleaners pick up the majority of the food the kitchen uses. Only about 10 percent of it goes into Wednesday night meals, with roughly two tons of food collected each week. According to Snyder, they always make too much, but they find a home for it.
The excess food is taken to other soup kitchens and a tent city in the area. In addition, 30 meals every Wednesday are taken to a Shoreline veteran’s group and 15 meals go to a local medical group once a month.
Volunteers at the kitchen appear to enjoy their time there. It’s a lot of work, but ultimately it’s rewarding.
“I get more than I give when I’m here at the kitchen,” said volunteer Wanda Busby.
Along with preparing and serving food, volunteers help out with a new children’s play area and clothing-donation program.
With the goal of helping people, Annie’s Kitchen was given the “Peace through Service” award from the Rotary Club of Lynnwood in September. To Fortnum, getting the award was a pleasant surprise. Along with other awards the kitchen has won — including a Spirit of Snohomish County Award from United Way in 2011 — Snyder believes this means they are going in the right direction. But regardless of awards, their focus remains the same.
“What we’re trying to do is gather the food and distribute it to those in need. Overall, we want to make sure food isn’t wasted,” said Snyder.
Gleaners at Annie’s Kitchen pick up enough food to feed people seven days a week, but they don’t have enough volunteers to do so. Instead, the extra food goes to other helping operations.
Since Annie’s began, Snyder said the number of people they serve has slightly decreased. He believes this is the result of other soup kitchens opening up in the area.
Note: Annie’s Kitchen will serve a free Community Thanksgiving Feast at Edmonds Lutheran Church this Wednesday, Nov. 21 at 5 p.m. The church is located at 23525 84th Ave. W.
Mary Coughlin is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.