As a line formed outside Mercy Inn around lunchtime Monday, Jon Gilde was taking his first break in hours. The Monday cook at the Wyandanch soup kitchen had been cooking since 6:30 that morning.
On Monday’s menu: breaded chicken with mushroom sauce, homemade stuffing, macaroni and cheese, baked ziti and sweet potatoes with pecans and marshmallows in a whiskey sauce. For dessert, cream puffs with a mocha-chocolate sauce on top.
“On Monday, the diners get a gourmet meal thanks to Jon,” said Marylyn Lieberman, a fellow volunteer.
Gilde, 68, of Dix Hills, has always loved to cook. And now being retired, he was looking for a way to pursue his passion. He heard about Mercy Inn two years ago and has been helping out ever since.
Kathleen Stoehr, president of Mercy Inn, said groups of about 12 volunteers work for hours in the kitchen to prepare and serve lunch to an average of 80 people a day, five days a week.
“They are all very dedicated,” she said. “It’s a great group.”
Stoehr said Mercy Inn is a nonprofit organization formed eight years ago to take over the soup kitchen from the Sisters of Mercy nuns, who ran the soup kitchen for 23 years prior to that. She said the soup kitchen functions thanks to its volunteers, donations by local businesses, community groups and restaurants. Some of the food is also purchased through grants, she said.
For Gilde, the benefits of volunteering are two-fold. He said he loves giving back to his community and the opportunity to feed so many.
“We need it all,” he said about his extensive menu. “We could have 90 to 100 people out there.”
Gilde, who once owned two gas stations, a truck-repair company and worked as a claims adjustor for Geico, said he learned to cook from his mother, who went to cooking school, when he was 15. After that he took over as household cook, a role that followed him even after he was married.
“My wife hasn’t cooked in 35 years,” he said playfully, adding that his children, now adults, used to wait at the kitchen table for him to get home from work and make dinner.
Gilde said the best part of every Monday is when the guests arrive at Mercy Inn.
“I love it,” he said. “I love to cook and I love to see the faces of the people that eat my food.”