Kitchen outreach a dream come true for Pawleys Island priest

Vittoria Rocca, center, serves lunch to diners at Father Pat’s Lunch Kitchen at Precious Blood of Christ Church hall on Pawleys Island May 8. An estimated 20,000 meals have been served since it began in 2007. (Miscellany/Deirdre C. Mays)

Vittoria Rocca, center, serves lunch to diners at Father Pat’s Lunch Kitchen at Precious Blood of Christ Church hall on Pawleys Island May 8. An estimated 20,000 meals have been served since it began in 2007. (Miscellany/Deirdre C. Mays)PAWLEYS ISLAND—People in need of a hearty meal or some companionship in the Pee Dee know where to go.

They head for Father Pat’s Lunch Kitchen.

Since 2007, this ministry of Precious Blood of Christ Church has helped feed thousands from the island resort community.

Richard Duff, a parishioner who cooks for the Wednesday and Thursday lunches, estimates that 20,000 meals have been served at the parish hall.

Vittoria Rocca, who has volunteered at the kitchen since it started, said people of all ages show up. In the summer, many parents bring their children because school is out and they need the nutritious food.

It isn’t a stand-up buffet like many church-sponsored meals. Diners find a seat, and volunteers serve drinks and dinner at the table.

The kitchen is named after the pastor, Father Patrick J. Stenson of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, who wanted to help poor people in the area by providing hearty fare.

“There are many people who have very little and need help, and so often the poor are hidden away from us,” Father Stenson said. “We really see Christ in other people through the work at the kitchen. The people who come bless us profoundly. The happiest people there really are the volunteers. In many ways, they get back more than they give.”

Duff first heard about the project at a Knights of Columbus meeting.

“They were looking for someone to operate and manage the kitchen, and since I had 50 years of commercial food experience, I said ‘I guess I could do that,’” he said.

The busiest day of the week is Wednesday, when more than 100 regularly show up for lunch. Crowds on Thursday average about 70, and during the height of summer, 60 people will sometimes show up for breakfast.

When it comes to cooking for large crowds, Duff is the right person for the job. Before retiring to South Carolina from Virginia, he worked in food service for 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps.

After the military, he earned a degree in hotel and restaurant management, and handled food service for a large hospital and a country club in the Washington, D.C., area.

Duff plans the lunchtime menus and purchases, cooks and stores the food. He’s proud that leftovers are rare.

The major source of funding is the annual Tastes at Pawleys event held by the church, which raised more than $70,000 for Father Pat’s Kitchen and Friendship House, another local charity, on April 25.

Other funding comes from parish and community donations, and Duff said individuals and businesses, including local supermarkets, donate food.

He also takes pride in the variety of his menu items.

“In three years, we’ve only had meat loaf twice,” he said. “Most soup kitchens have meat loaf every third or fourth week. If you open up any good cookbook, there’s a hundred ways to do things with ground beef, with chicken. Many of the entrees are never repeated.”

Duff said all the work is worth it when he sees how people enjoy the food and the camaraderie. He said occasionally visitors bring the volunteers gifts from their homes or gardens.

A woman who made jewelry as a hobby created a pair of earrings for Duff’s wife.

“It’s a happy place to work, and that makes a big difference,” Duff said. “When you’re feeding happy people, it’s a wonderful atmosphere.”

The outreach is staffed by a dedicated group of volunteers, who help set up each meal and serve it.

Patsy Foley of Murrells Inlet coordinates the Saturday breakfasts, which started in May 2009. The menu rotates and features items such as eggs, pancakes and French toast.

“We get to know the clients and follow their stories,” Foley said. “It really makes me feel good to be able to serve the people who come.”

Rocca said she signed up for the outreach immediately because she had done similar volunteer work at a parish in Maryland. She helps coordinate volunteers, and works at the kitchen on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

She said fellowship is an important part of the experience, especially for elderly people in the area who don’t have many family or friends.

“You meet so many people through the kitchen, of all different ages, different races,” she said. “It’s a spiritual thing. You’re able to feed the body, feed the mind and feed the soul.”