What was once a dream is now a reality for Mama T’s Bread & Blessings Homeless Shelter. An operative commercial kitchen is now theirs.

The dream came true thanks to a grant from the Ada Rotary Club, a huge fundraiser led by some grateful past residents, a share of a government grant and a grant facilitated several years ago by a local church. The facility will soon be serving 3 meals a day, seven days a week in a City of Ada approved, and Pontotoc County Health Department Certified, Commercial Kitchen.

Mama T’s, once limited to only being allowed to let individuals cook their own meals using their own food, will soon be serving meals cooked by ServSafe trained staff utilizing food bought from the Oklahoma Regional Food Bank. The difference was made possible by the installation of a custom built nine-foot vent hood and kitchen fire suppression system.

The ball started rolling toward the finish of the commercial kitchen in May of 2020 when Mama Ts Board of Directors President Dania Deschamps-Braly and Executive Director Crystal Lamb met with representatives from the Ada Rotary Club. The club was looking for a way to help the community with a grant.

“When Dania suggested we look at helping them by purchasing and installing a vent hood I thought that was kind of boring,” laughed Rotarian and Project Co-Leader Pat Fountain. “But when she told us what all they could do if they had the vent hood they needed to be a commercial kitchen we were really excited and determined to help make it happen.”

Fountain and Project Co-Director John Wilson went to work and were joined by other Rotarians in assessing what the project would entail.

A quote for a vent hood was obtained, the grant was written, and the waiting began to see if the grant would be approved by Rotary District 5770 which includes the Ada Rotary Club. In the end a grant for $4,099 was approved with $820 to come from the Ada Rotary Club and $3279 to come from the District.

In the spring of 2020 Pontotoc County Phase 5 Drug Court participants decided to hold a community fund raiser with Mama T’s as the beneficiary. The project leader and several of the project participants had stayed at Mama T’s in the past. In a September 3 story in the Ada News several in the group explained how Mama T’s had helped them when they most needed help. They were joined in the fundraising effort by participants in the Southern Oklahoma Addiction Recovery (SOAR) program and others.

More than one pointed to the Shelter’s mission of being “A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out.”

A hint of a tear welled up in Lamb’s eyes as she explained how those former residents wanted to show their gratitude for the “hand up” Mama T’s had given them. Following six months of planning, gathering items and getting others involved the group held a huge “community garage sale” and raised almost $10,000!

The final piece of the funding puzzle came together thanks to some assistance from Ada Homeless Services Director Sarah Frye. Frye was able to give Mama T’s $5,000 from an Emergency Solutions Grant through the Cares Act which Frye had written for Ada Homeless Services.

The kitchen effort began several years ago when Pastor Scott White of Ada’s First Presbyterian Church obtained a grant of $10,000 for the shelter kitchen. It enabled Mama T’s to acquire cabinetry, countertops, and various appliances.

The kitchen, however, was not operational. The commercial stove and two convection ovens could not be used because of the requirement of an expensive exhaust vent with a fire suppression system which Mama T’s could not afford.

Lamb spoke to the Ada Rotary Club at their September 2 meeting and explained what the project would do for Mama T’s. Since the stove and ovens could not be used individuals and families had to provide their own food and cook that food using microwaves, crock pots, hot plates, and an outdoor bar-b-que grill.

With an approved commercial kitchen, she explained, Mama T’s would be able to participate in a food program in cooperation with the Oklahoma Regional Food Bank for which they had already been approved. The program would allow Mama T’s to select and order 600 pounds of food for $108 as often as they needed to do so. Funding was also in place and arrangements made to hire and train cooks.

“We have been fortunate to have received what leftover food Mercy Hospital has at the end of the day, Monday through Friday, for which we have been extremely appreciative,” said Deschamps-Braly.

“Having our own kitchen will permit us to put together menus that are not only robust and filling but will be nutritionally appropriate for our average guests. We will also be able to healthily feed those of our guests who suffer from pre- and full-fledged diabetes and other maladies that require specialized diets.”

Deschamps-Braly said the commercial kitchen is extremely important to Mama T’s for reasons that go beyond those of providing meals to guests.

“We will be able to be of assistance to Abba’s Tables by providing take-out meals on Saturdays and Sundays when the soup kitchen is closed,” she said. “We will be able to have qualified guests produce baked breads and other goods that can be sold at the local farmers’ market and throughout the year.”

“The kitchen will allow us to train some of our guests in how to plan inexpensive nutritious meals in preparation for taking care of themselves and their families upon leaving the shelter,” she added. “We will also have the opportunity to train some guests in restaurant operations to prepare them for future careers in the restaurant industry.”

Mama T’s has been in the business of making dreams come true for those who need a hand up. To be even better equipped to do this they needed their own dream of a commercial kitchen to come true.

Thanks to the Ada Rotary Club, grateful past residents and help from Ada Homeless Services and Ada’s First Presbyterian Church, that dream is now a reality.

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