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Extra helpings for the hungry

Feeding the masses is a labor of love at Central City Cafe on East Eagle Street, where free, hot lunches are served on weekdays and holidays.

Central City Cafe is one of the few soup kitchens in the City of Buffalo that allow people to get second and third helpings.

And it's where the community helps grow fresh greens, tomatoes, brocoli and other vegetables to increase the nutritional value of the meals. Last autumn, local farmers also donated produce.

"Most of our food comes from the Food Bank [of Western New York]," said cafe manager Johnnie Mae Holt, who added that while invaluable, a lot of that food is canned or processed.

"We don't get a lot of fresh vegetables to feed people," which makes the produce grown in the gardens and donated from farms all the more important, said Holt, who cooks and helps serve the meals.

The soup kitchen started in 1990 in the basement of Durham Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church at 174 E. Eagle. When construction of the church's outreach center was completed next door in 2003, the cafe relocated there.

In addition to the hot food, served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., showers are available weekdays before and after mealtime. Toiletries, towels and wash cloths are donated to the church.

Run by volunteers, Central City Cafe relies on government funds and private donations to feed from 100 to more than 200 each day.

Alida Millington is one of them.

"The people here are very nice. I'm grateful for [the food]. It's made with love," said Millington, who recently moved here from Rochester.

"They're trying to do the best they can to help us, and they're not trying to close the door," said Millington's friend, Ibery Frazier.

Located next to the center, the community garden was started last year when the church partnered with WNED and Sheehan Health Network, anearby hospital.

The fenced-in lot is divided into small plots of raised beds for residents of the neighborhood to adopt. The neighbors grow what they want and then donate 10 percent of what they reap to the church. The first harvest was last summer, Holt said.

The center has had some setbacks over the years. The walk-in coolers that store perishables, for instance, need major repairs -- estimated at $3,000 -- or replacement. But the volunteers keep the meals coming.

To sponsor a garden plot or to volunteer, send an email to To make other donations, call the church at 856-4943.

Have an idea for a person, organization or event that would make a good East Side Story? Email it to, fax it to 856-5150 or call 849-6026.