Schenectady County

Schenectady kitchen opening to fulfill activist’s vision

Chauncey Williams’ last dream has finally come true.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Chauncey Williams’ last dream has finally come true.

A community kitchen is opening on Hamilton Hill, where residents will be hired to turn local farmers’ products into healthful, affordable food.

On Wednesday, the Hunger Action Network signed a three-year lease to start the kitchen in the business incubator on Albany Street. The organization had searched for a location in Schenectady last year, but reluctantly started cooking at SUNY Cobleskill in October when it appeared there was no space for them on Hamilton Hill.

But after their plight was publicized, the Metroplex Development Authority reorganized the incubator to make space.

“We had to do a lot of contortions on this, but we moved some people around and made some adjustments,” Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen said. “We really thought this was worth pursuing so we’re able to move Chauncey’s dream to where it belongs.”

They consolidated enough unused space to give the Hunger Action Network 1,500 square feet, which was the bare minimum needed for the kitchen.

Now network officials are contacting the foundations that promised money for kitchen equipment if the network ever found a space to build a kitchen. They expect to be up and running in the incubator this spring, and have already gathered enough grants to operate for three years.

TASTE-TESTING

The three-month detour in Cobleskill was not a waste of time, network Associate Director Mark Dunlea said.

The network taste-tested its first jams and bread spreads in the SUNY kitchen and decided the recipe wasn’t quite right.

“We needed to get the sugar levels correct,” Dunlea said. “We’ve sort of been getting the kinks out of the system, trying it out on friends at holiday get-togethers. We’re getting rave reviews.”

When they’re ready to fire up the stoves in the incubator they plan to hire two employees, supervised by food processing director Vincent Ross. They hope to have five to eight workers by the end of the first year.

They started with jams and spreads in the hope that those items would be profitable. But they don’t think those products meet Williams’ vision of a community kitchen that sells healthy food to low-income families.

“Once we get the product line up and breaking even, we want to add more products we could sell at a discount on Hamilton Hill,” Dunlea said. “We are buying the produce from local farms.”

Once the business is established, he also wants to persuade convenience store owners on the Hill to sell more fruits and vegetables.

Dunlea was drafted into community kitchen project six months before Williams died in 2005. Hamilton Hill’s tireless neighborhood leader was trying to organize a space where inner-city residents could gain job skills while turning fruits and vegetables into marketable products. He brought the Schenectady Inner City Ministry and the Albany-based Hunger Action Network of New York State into his plan, but the project stalled when he died that July. Few residents had even heard about it, and most of them forgot it had ever been proposed.

But Dunlea stuck with it, saying he owed it to Williams.

“This is Chauncey Williams’ project,” he said. “Unfortunately, he died. But he wanted it here … Hamilton Hill is right where we want to be.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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