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Kitchen dishes up dignity

With shiny brass light fixtures and cut flowers on every table, the brick and stone building could be any upscale restaurant. But the patrons are the city's poorest, and they are as surprised as anyone that it's their new soup kitchen. Just six months ago, they were eating in a building a block away that was falling apart and infested with cockroaches.

"Some of the people cried the first time they saw the new place," said Barbara Raaymakers, director of a non-profit food program called Capitol Lunch.

A non-profit housing developer, the Dwelling Place, leased the 84-year-old building to Raaymakers' organization after renovating it. Most of the $411,725 for the renovation came from contributions and the rest through a low-interest loan.

"The idea for this place was to reinforce the integrity that everyone deserves to have regardless of their social status," said Dennis Sturtevant of the Dwelling Place. "If you eat in a dump, that's how you feel."

The clientele of God's Kitchen, which opened Dec. 17, rarely wait for a seat. They were accustomed to standing outside for hours in snow or heat because of a shortage of seats in the old building. Capacity has nearly tripled, from about 60 to 170.

And instead of cramped seating at a few long tables, the new place has intimate four-seat tables. Volunteers serve 300 to 600 hot meals a day.

Adam Tremaine, 26, sitting over a tray of goulash, vegetables and a brownie, said he appreciates not being rushed out the door as soon as he's done, adding: "I'm really proud that people went to the trouble of building a place like this for us."