The Community Lunchbox — 20 years of service

SARANAC LAKE – The Community Lunchbox is now entering its 21st year of continuous operation. It provides two hot luncheon meals per week for those in the community in need of the nurturing benefit of food and fellowship.

Prior to the beginning of the Community Lunchbox, the then-pastor of St. Luke’s Church, the Rev. Fredrick Dennis, first proposed a soup kitchen using the church’s parish hall. At the time, the church leaders were unsure of the actual need, so the idea did not materialize.

Shortly thereafter, the Rev. Carlos Caguiat and his wife, Julianna, moved to Saranac Lake and became members of St. Luke’s. At the time, Julianna felt a calling to become a deacon in the church. One of the goals of a deacon is to maintain a bridge between the church parish and the community, to present the needs of the community to members of the parish. Part of Julianna’s study curriculum was to have a ministry project to work on. She approached Rev. Dennis, asking if he could think of anything in the community that she might use as such a project. Dennis responded, “Build me a soup kitchen.”

Dennis suggested Julianna begin by developing information from social services organizations and the community to determine the interest and the willingness for volunteers to serve in the soup kitchen.

Julianna accepted the challenge and began by gathering information on the need of a soup kitchen from many different sources such as the Department of Welfare, the Department of Labor and an already established soup kitchen in Malone. She put out feelers to the community, asking for those interested in helping establish and work on a soup kitchen to meet. More than 50 people attended this meeting.

Dennis had put two stipulations on the operation of the soup kitchen:

1. that it be an ecumenical program, not just for St. Luke’s parish

2. that it operate out of the St. Luke’s Church facility.

Dennis continued to drive the project and provided continuous encouragement to Julianna. Finally, after about a year-and-a-half, she had developed sufficient information whereby the church leadership became convinced that this was a good idea and that the need was clearly present. Use of the St. Luke’s Parish Hall was secured for a Community Lunchbox program.

In 1994, the Community Lunchbox program was launched. Startup funds in the amount of $4,000 to $5,000 were received from many sources, enough to get started. Many volunteers were enlisted to cook, serve tables and clean up. The first meal drew about six or eight people, as Julianna recalls. The second meal drew only a few more people, and after the first month or so, they began to actually question the need. But the slow start was, in reality, simply the community becoming fully aware of this support, and the attendance grew rapidly from that point forward.

For more than 10 years, the Community Lunchbox was run solely by Julianna with the volunteers to staff the kitchen work. It was about 2005 that Julianna recognized that the operation should be set up to run indefinitely, without dependence on any single individual. That was when the Community Lunchbox became incorporated. Julianna solicited the help of others to establish the corporation with a board of directors to manage the ongoing activities.

Average Community Lunchbox attendance ranges from 30 to 40 people per meal. Organizers estimate that, since its inception in 1994, about 80,000 meals have been served. The Community Lunchbox continues to be staffed by 10 teams of volunteers, about 60 volunteers in all. Each team is responsible for one meal per month.

The Rev. Carlos and Julianna Caguiat have recently retired and have moved from Saranac Lake to enter a new phase in their lives, and to live closer to their children.

Keith Wells, of Saranac Lake, is a parishioner of St. Luke’s Episcopal church, a Community Lunchbox volunteer and treasurer of the Community Lunchbox Board of Directors.