PAUL GUGGENHEIMER| Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021 5:37 p.m.
A cozy, olive-colored building on Barnes Street in New Kensington was a busy place Saturday.
The building is home to Knead Community Café, a unique place where good meals are served and no one goes hungry — no matter how much money they have.
The owners, Kevin and Mary Bode, want to make sure people know they’re there. So, the cafe once again played host to the annual Knead Café Fall Harvest Craft and Vendor Fair, where more than 60 vendors brought lots of traffic to the venue.
“What it’s designed to do is to bring the community in so they can experience the cafe and see what we’re doing here,” event coordinator Marcie Leo said.
What they’re doing is incredibly heartwarming and inspiring.
When someone comes to the cafe to eat, they are told there is a suggested donation.
People can pay the suggested amount or add a little more to pay for someone else’s meal.
People also can pay a few dollars, if that’s all they have in their pocket, or they can volunteer for an hour clearing tables or sweeping up, and receive a meal.
“We operate based on love,” said Mary Bode. “I think we do a good job helping people to know that they’re loved by their community. So, we rely on those with means to help those without means. It’s a very tangible way to help your neighbor by just throwing a couple of bucks in to pay it forward.”
And the food is delicious, based on a sampling of eggs, bacon, sausage and home fries mixed with hot peppers.
The chef is Carlo Cimino, who came from Hill Crest Country Club.
Roughly 30% of Knead Community Café’s budget comes from fundraising, so the proceeds from Saturday’s craft and vendor fair help the cafe with its finances.
Some vendors donated a significant portion of their revenue from Saturday’s event to the cafe.
The cafe is in its fifth year of operation. It was inspired by mission trips Kevin and Mary, who met in college at Towson University in Maryland, were taking overseas.
“After one of those mission trips, we came back here and saw the poverty (in New Kensington) and felt like we needed to do something locally,” said Kevin, who makes his living as a financial adviser for Northwestern Mutual. “If you walk out these doors and go past City Hall and just keep walking for several blocks, you’ll see some of the highest poverty rates in the whole state of Pennsylvania.
“We felt called to help our neighbors in need in some way,” Mary said.
The Bodes, who make no money from operating the cafe, say the need has increased since the start of the pandemic. The cafe was giving away 400 to 500 free meals a month before the covid-19 crisis hit, according to Kevin. He says that number has been pushed to 1,500 a month, making events like Saturday’s even more important.
At the craft and vendor fair, lots of people showed up to check out everything from jewelry to toys to soap.
Kathy Westcoat, 73, a retired physical education teacher from New Kensington, was among the shoppers. She stopped by the “Peas and Quiet Farm” booth, featuring herbal items including skin care products, hot sauce and whiskey-infused hickory syrup.
“They have some interesting things, all these different herbal products that you don’t find every day,” Westcoat said. “There’s a lot going on here.”
Leo said she believes events like Saturday’s fair are helping to change the public’s perception of New Kensington.
“For the past 20 years, people have been afraid to come into town,” she said. “The jobs left, and it just became a more dangerous place with more crime. But now there are lots of little stores opening here now, and we want people to know that. It’s a much more positive place to be.”
Mary Bode said she believes Knead Community Café has helped bring the New Kensington community together.
“It’s been a lovely way to see our community bounce back.”