Father Pat’s Kitchen reaches new heights with 200,000 meals – Coastal Observer


Father Pat’s Kitchen reaches new heights with 200,000 meals

Amy Richardson learns from the namesake of Father Pat’s Kitchen that she has received the 200,000th meal.

Amy Richardson has eaten at Father Pat’s Kitchen for years, since her kids were little. They’re now in their 20s.

But when Father Pat himself arrived at her table last week with a plate of roast beef, steak fries and stir-fry vegetables, she couldn’t help but wonder.

“I know her very well,” the Rev. Patrick Stenson said.

So he was pleased to help serve Richardson with meal No. 200,000.

“That’s amazing,” she said when she learned the reason for the special service. “He’s an amazing guy. He’s helped a lot in the community over the years.”

The outreach ministry of Precious Blood of Christ Catholic Church was originally planned as the Pawleys Island Lunch Kitchen, but parishioners decided to rename it before it opened on the first Wednesday in March 2007 to honor Stenson.

There was enough meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans to serve 30 on opening day. Four people showed. The volunteers were discouraged, Stenson said.

“They said, ‘it’s not going to work,’” he recalled. 

Stenson advised that an hour of prayer would provide guidance.

“By the end of the month, we were up to 50 or 60. A few weeks later, we were near 100,” he said.

A Thursday lunch and a Saturday breakfast were added. By November 2015, Father Pat’s Kitchen had served 100,000 meals.

The project began when the church opened its Parish Life Center in 2006. The next day, Stenson said he got calls from groups within and outside the parish asking about using the old Founders Hall.

“I thought, what are we going to do with that building?” Stenson said. “There’s a lot of need. The thought came: maybe we could try a kitchen and feed some people. Just like that.”

Richard Duff cooked the first meal and the 100,000th meal. He had cooked for 20 years in the Marine Corps before retiring after 20 years as director of food and nutrition at the Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington, D.C. He estimates that his hospital career involved about 4 million meals. As a Marine, the meals ranged from small gatherings, such as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to serving 3,000 aboard an aircraft carrier.

Father Pat’s Kitchen wasn’t a commercial kitchen at the start.

“It was doomed to succeed, but only because of the amount of time and effort the volunteers put into it,” said Duff, 87, who now lives in Myrtle Beach. “Everything was learn as you go.”

The hallmarks of Father Pat’s Kitchen are the food and the service.

“The food that we made, everything was cooked in small batches, and it was country-club level. The beans weren’t overcooked and soggy. Everything went out fresh,” Duff said.

And the people who came to eat were guests.

“Our guests,” said Fran Spencer, who has volunteered since the beginning.

That means they come in and have a seat. The food comes to them.

“It’s really like running a little restaurant,” said the Rev. Paul MacNeil, who succeeded Stenson as pastor.

He joked at a Mass last year that coincided with Stenson’s 80th birthday and 60th year as a priest  that “Father Pat will go down in history as the only Catholic priest with a kitchen named after him.”

That’s something others can only aspire to, although “Father Paul’s drive-thru does have a ring to it,” he added.

The kitchen is the largest component of the parish’s outreach program, and MacNeil said it is something he hasn’t seen in his 35 years as a priest

“There are places that have soup kitchens,” he said. “I’ve never encountered this style of being so thoughtful and respectful.”

Having Father Pat’s name on the kitchen does more to honor its founder. It creates a legacy.

“There’s a joy in us knowing who Father Pat is and what he believes and lives. It’s in a way an extension of his character and his mission to serve others,” MacNeil said. “That legacy will continue.”

Jerry Murphy, who prepared lunch for the 200,000th meal, is among those who continue the legacy of fine dining. He apprenticed as a chef in a New York hotel, served in the Navy and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. He taught in a regional career center in metropolitan New York while serving as a “place holder chef” in many of the region’s top clubs.

“He’s the real deal,” Spencer said.

The lunch operation usually begins around 8 a.m. Murphy likes to get there an hour earlier, he said on a recent morning, his knife keeping a steady beat as he chopped onions for the day’s soup.

In the beginning, the church held Taste of Pawleys benefits to raise money to supply the kitchen. It now receives donations directly from grocery stores through a program sponsored by the Low Country Food Bank.

It also has a partnership with the Community Garden in Parkersville that is run by Carolina Human Reinvestment.

Murphy took a pause from his prep work to show off the broccoli and cabbage from the garden that would go into his stir-fry.

“There’s not a restaurant in New York City that get produce this fresh,” he said.

The donations dictate the menu, but the kitchen has several well-stocked refrigerators. Volunteers organize the food with future menus in mind.

“It’s a fixed menu, but by design it has flexibility to it,” said David Jurasinski, the kitchen coordinator. He is a former professor of hospitality management at the State University of New York.

By the time Murphy was finishing the stir-fry, the beef was warming in the oven under a gravy that he made with a mix of seasonings he had prepared and a few extra ingredients that came to hand that morning.

Volunteers had already set the tables, mixed the salads and warmed up the serving dishes. In a stack of paper plates, one was marked “200,000.” There were 41 other plates on top of it.

The kitchen opens for guests at 11:30 a.m. It serves until 1 p.m. 

Richardson came in about 12:15 p.m. She said she is particularly fond of the soup, which was chicken-vegetable.

Murphy said afterward that he had been preparing a vegetable soup for a demonstration, but when it was rescheduled at the last minute, it became part of the day’s lunch with the addition of chicken.

The volunteers know that many of the people they serve are struggling. Others are lonely. The volunteers don’t ask questions.

“We  don’t care why you’re coming in,” said Nikki Del Valle, the campus coordinator. She started out as a kitchen volunteer before joining the parish staff.

Not all the volunteers are parish members. Some are former guests, she noted.

Del  Valle used to work as an emergency manager in Newport News, Va. Part of her job included running homeless shelters. There was nothing like Father Pat’s Kitchen, she said.

“This place has been life-changing for me,” Del Valle said. “It’s amazing, actually. It’s so  refreshing to know that you’re part of something bigger than yourself.”

Stenson said the kitchen has surpassed expectations, even if it continues to see a steady demand.

“It’s a great blessing, not just for me, but a lot of people,” he said, citing Matthew 25:40. “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me. I live with that.”

Although retired, Stenson still comes to the kitchen for food and fellowship.

“I don’t cook,” he said.



Georgetown County Board of Education: First and third Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Beck Education Center. For details, go to gcsd.k12.sc.us. Georgetown County Council: Second and fourth Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Council Chambers, 129 Screven St., Georgetown. For details, go to georgetowncountysc.org. Pawleys Island Town Council: Second Mondays, 5 p.m. Town Hall, 323 Myrtle Ave. For details, go to townofpawleysisland.com.   , .