PINETOP-LAKESIDE – Many in the White Mountain community were concerned and saddened when they learned the Love Kitchen, which fed the hungry for 35 years, was closing at the end of November 2020.
The good news is that a new non profit, The Community Kitchen, will be putting up their sign soon, and will endeavor to fill the need of serving the homeless and the food insecure.
Blue Ridge Unified School District (BRUSD) is the owner of the building and leased it to the Love Kitchen for only $1 a year. Superintendent Dr. Michael Wright said that the building is a taxpayer owner asset and a vital function for the community.
Wright confirmed on Jan. 12 that The Community Kitchen would be embarking on a major building cleanup and capital campaign to make the necessary repairs to the building in the hopes of realistically opening around May.
“Deferred maintenance has taken its toll on the building,” said Wright.
The necessary repairs will be around $75,000 to bring the building back to code.
The use of the building is board approved. The school will be able to pay the first $25,000 from insurance and it will be up to The Community Kitchen to raise the rest. Once the building is safe, hygienically clean, has storage and is safe to operate, they will be able to open. As tenants of the building they will be responsible for liability and the utilities. Operational costs run around $2,000 to $2,500 per month.
An enthusiastic Dawn Plaza Ricketts, the registered agent for the non-profit, has great plans for the facility and already has a board in place which is eager to work and get the facility open.
Board members include retired Show Low High School teacher John Grena; Marilyn Grena, branch manager for Arizona Central Credit Union; Carol Krukozsky, retired from AMEX; Tom Krukozsky, retired heavy equipment operator; Kenny Ricketts, retired from Kenny’s Handyman Services and currently working part time through Home Advisor; and Amy King, a former licensing specialist at HRT Foster Care.
The Krukozskys and Grenas were volunteers with Ricketts at the Love Kitchen. It was actually Krukozsky who got Ricketts involved with the Love Kitchen in 2017.
Ricketts, originally from California, has an associates degree in marketing and has been a foster parent since the age of 22. She said she has fostered 141 kids, adopted 6, was guardian of 2 and re-united the rest with their parents. She became a marketing agent for foster children and engaged in fundraising for foster kids who were aging out of the foster care system and had no place to go. She also worked to raise money for clothes and for Christmas gifts for the kids.
She and her husband have seven grandchildren and they have five children still at home.
“When my first husband and my father died in the same week,” said Ricketts, “I wanted to find a way to help people. My husband died of a stroke and my father of Parkinson’s disease.”
One of things she was able to do in California for the foster kids was to work with the corporate office of Carl’s Jr. They introduced a new milkshake and she proposed they donate $.50 of each milkshake to the foster care program and in four years, that proposal resulted in $4.2 million.
Her marketing background and fundraising efforts will come in handy as she taps the mountain and beyond for financial help in getting the building ready for occupancy.
There are many people who have reached out to say they want to donate to The Community Kitchen. Once she heard, “Launch,” from Wright, she was sitting on ready. She has an appointment set this week with a potential donor in the Valley and will head down on Friday for a face-to-face.
Anyone who has spoken with Ricketts knows that she is 100% focused on this goal and will not stop until she reaches what is needed to open — and she actually wants to open sooner than May.
She is already talking about getting with local businesses to allow her to place plastic boxes at their cash registers for people to donate their change.
Her husband, who was a HUD contractor on the mountain for eight years, actually did the fluorescent lighting system and replaced the toilets at the Love Kitchen free of charge and paid for the materials out of his pocket. She plans to tap into his handyman services once again to help with building repairs and she says he will not give her a bill for those services.
She also has plans for Kenny to make the fundraising thermometer which will will allow the community to watch the fundraising efforts as they rise towards the targeted goal.
The overall plan for The Community Kitchen is to continue the Love Kitchen’s model of providing hot meals to those who come in, for free, and to also provide an area whereby the board and volunteers can assist individuals with job seeking skills from application to completion. They will also provide interview apparel to those individuals at no charge. They plan to continue the relationship that was established with the White Mountain SAFE House to provide meals and clothing for the women and children.
Ricketts was waiting for the go-ahead and will now proceed to open a bank account so that people can donate through Arizona Central Credit Union. In the meantime, she said anyone who would like to contribute towards the building fund can send a check to The Community Kitchen c/o Dawn Ricketts at 8505 Bobcat Drive, Show Low, AZ 85901 or call her at (928) 242-7198 if they have any questions.
The Love Kitchen operated for 35 years. According to Director Lynn Lewis, the Love Kitchen officially closed on Dec. 1, 2021. Lewis said it was a difficult decision for the board. With people continuing to donate during the pandemic, they thought they could remain open, primarily relying on their Head Start contracts. When one of those fell through and the other had a major reduction in children for the program, they could not afford to operate the kitchen and made the decision not to renew the one Head Start contract and made the decision to close.