For Frankie Kahn, it's not so much about the meals as it is the companionship.
As he walks through the door of the Salvation Army soup kitchen in Riverhead, he gets a hug from Pastor Frank Dene, one of the six volunteers who serves lunch each day in the organization's basement. Dene greeted the 40 or so diners with hugs and handshakes.
Kahn, 55, who said he used to have a successful business hand-painting artwork on cars, is a recovering alcoholic, and finds warmth doled out along with the meal to be a daily reminder that he is loved, he said.
"The real prize is sobriety," Kahn added. "And where else can you get a hot meal every single day?"
Lunch is served Monday-Friday at 12:30. Dene and the other volunteers know that for some, the food they get here may be their only hot meal of the day.
On this day, like every Wednesday, the meal is donated chicken. In fact, much of the food and cakes are donated by local stores, such as BJs warehouse club, grocer Stop & Shop and a nearby Bagel Lovers. The long tables have cloths and flowers, and many of the diners greet each other by name. Music plays in the background.
During the recent warmer weather, the soup kitchen has fed about 80 people on a given day. But the numbers are affected by the seasons. This past winter, which the Salvation Army said was a busy time for the organization, it had to use an auxiliary room to feed the hungry. About 150 to 175 showed up for lunch on some days, many of them farm laborers, according to the volunteers. Still others just sought to escape from the cold.
"We are here to serve the Lord," said Joe Frigano, who has managed the soup kitchen for two years. "It's God's kitchen."
Indeed, each meal begins with a prayer and a short devotional, the mission of the Salvation Army, which combines preaching with social concerns, working especially to assist the homeless and those addicted to alcohol and drugs. At a recent meal, the organization's Lt. Kelly Ross gave a talk on relying on God in times of trouble. Many of the diners tell stories of substance addiction or losing low-paying jobs that just kept their heads above water. No matter, said the volunteers. No one asks nor cares why they are here, they are just glad they came.
"When they come down here, they know they're loved," Dene said.
Frigano recalled that last year a woman mentioned it was her birthday, prompting the volunteers and diners to break out in song. It was the first time anyone ever sang to her, she told them. "That brings a tear to your eye," Frigano said.
After lunch, which lasts about an hour, the crowd scatters, some going across the street to the train station and others making the short walk to the Riverhead Public Library to get out of the cold.
Lorinda Pendelton, 39, who was at lunch with her boyfriend and best friend, said she also comes to the Salvation Army to attend church services, adding she finds solace in the sermons.
"It carries you a long way," Pendelton said about the food and the fellowship. "Especially when things are going bad."