In an effort to keep its doors open, Christ Church, United Church of Christ in Maplewood has formed a unique partnership with several food truck owners, caterers, nonprofits and even the occasional band.
These partnerships have not only made the church a community hub of constant activity and allowed it to thrive, but given several individuals an opportunity to get their businesses up and running through the use of the church’s commercial kitchen.
“My son-in-law and I have been looking for commissary space, which is very limited in St. Louis,” said Buzz Moore of Buzz’s Hawaiian Grill, one of four food trucks utilizing the church’s kitchen and five large convection ovens. “We were pursuing restaurant space, but that’s not ideal and it’s expensive. When we found out about this, we looked at the space and said, ‘It’s perfect.’ It’s very affordable and convenient for us – you can come and go when it’s best for your schedule, and you can work with the other food truck owners and caterers. It’s working out very well and we’re excited.”
In turn, Christ Church, UCC is getting its wish of keeping its doors open and becoming a larger part of the community. Prior to these partnerships, the congregation was forced to consider selling the church or even abandoning it due to dire financial circumstances.
“A lot of small congregations have had to walk away from their churches or sell them because a lot of these buildings are old and you can’t financially maintain them,” Christ Church, UCC Pastor Rebecca Turner said.
It wasn’t feasible for the church to continue maintaining its 97-year-old building at a cost of roughly $50,000 a year, financial secretary Donna Ratkowski said. Christ Church, UCC had been operating at a loss of up to $30,000 a year over the past several years, which forced the church to borrow money several times throughout the past 10 years. So they began thinking outside the box.
“We started to think about how the community would like to use this building, and how could we help them and how could they help us?” Turner said.
Christ Church, UCC started advertising it had space and rooms nonprofits and other organizations could rent. Congregation members then came up with the idea of renting the church’s 700-square-foot kitchen to food truck owners and caterers in need of commercial ovens and a place to prepare and store food.
Ron Gaus, the church’s coordinator of building and grounds, said it took nearly three years to complete kitchen renovations and five months to revise the zoning ordinance within the city of Maplewood.
Through its partnerships with food trucks, caterers and nonprofits, the Christ Church, UCC building asset currently provides an income of $56,000 a year.
“Busy and Alive”
Since Christ Church, UCC began leasing its kitchen in January, four food truck owners and six caterers have been utilizing the space. The biggest “complaint” from church members and neighbors is that it always smells like bacon because of the St. Louis BLT food truck. STL French Quarter and Slide Piece food trucks also prep and cook meals at the church. Caterers and other foodie tenants include Dr. Joyce’s Honey Wellness, Ghetto Gourmet, Bill Q BBQ, Que Sazon, Meats and More Turkey Legs, and Plantain Girl St. Louis. Inspiration Bakery will soon join them.
There are others using church space for various purposes as well, including Anointed Hands Christian Church, which runs a food pantry and uses Christ Church, UCC as a location for distributing food three times a month.
St. Patrick’s Center, which helps individuals and families transition from homelessness to independence, utilizes the church for some of its workshops. St. Louis County’s Doors to Success program, which helps young adults work toward earning a GED, has been housed at Christ Church, UCC for several years and will continue meeting there.
The Candy Band practices at the church, too.
“They’re a band that wanted to practice somewhere for months and 15 other churches said no, but we said yes,” Building and Grounds Coordinator Guas said.
Turner and other church leaders love the activity.
“We want all of this space to be used for the community, and we want people coming and going as much as possible – not just the people who are in our church pews one day a week,” Turner said. “I see a big difference in the church – it’s busy and alive.”
Ratkowski, who handles the finances, echoed that sentiment.
“It’s been our goal that this building should never be empty,” she said. “Now there’s always someone here and it’s so busy that scheduling room for all of these groups is challenging, but that’s a good problem to have.”
Without it, Christ Church, UCC, may have had to close its doors.
“It meant the difference between keeping the building and getting rid of it,” Gaus said.
For more information about Christ Church, UCC, 2200 Bellevue Ave. in Maplewood, or utilizing the church’s space, call 314-644-3033 or visit www.maplewooducc.org.