Since the Grand Central Station Dining Car opened in 2010, it has served more than 236,000 lunches to area residents and visitors. The soup kitchen has assisted more than 5,250 people with hot showers, clean towels and toiletries. Since 2014, the laundry division has helped 2,827 people.
GCS is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday and from 9-10:30 a.m. Saturdays, preparing and serving more than 150 brown bags lunches — 2 per person — for visitors’ weekend meals.
“Volunteers have served 56,441 hours individually and as groups since we opened our doors for a financial value over $1,297,000 in donated time,” Executive Director Karen Bray said in an email.
The station serves everyone from toddlers to area residents in their 80s. Formed as an outreach mission sponsored by Grayson County churches, businesses, foundations and individuals, the soup kitchen works to help reduce the effects of resource limitations through nutrition, education, training and social services.
“The purpose of Grayson Grand Central Station – The Dining Car is to provide hot, nutritious lunch meals for anyone in need, with a family-friendly environment and emphasis on a much-needed social experience for our elderly citizens and those who are alone,” Bray said.
With the end of the school year, the dining car expects to see an increase in patrons for the summer months.
“We do see an increased number of children during the summer,” Bray said. “Otherwise, though our attendance fluctuates somewhat, it pretty much is consistent throughout the year. GCS serves the indigent population of Grayson County. We serve all ages, without question, with approximately 49 percent of our clients over 60. This is an estimate, because many of our visitors do not record their age.”
Serving between 100 and 200 individuals daily with breakfast and lunch, as well as shower and laundry services, there are more than 200 volunteers that work in teams of five per day.
“Volunteer greeters meet our visitors offering direction to new attendees and do various jobs in the dining room,” Bray said. “Our volunteer coordinator solicits churches throughout the area to for a contact person within each church to provide our volunteers. Using only volunteers, we have eight licensed food managers rotating on a daily basis, seven licensed kitchen supervisors, over 60 licensed food handlers and additional volunteers numbering over 200. Volunteers help with shopping, computer records, correspondence, treasury, cleaning, greeting and caring for guests and assisting with social services as possible.”
Bray also said that a local agency provides two senior workers to help at the soup kitchen.
“Supplies of food come from many sources,” Bray said. “A lot of our food is ordered through The North Texas Food Bank at a very reduced price. We receive donations of food from several restaurants, donations from food drives, food received from grocery stores, as well as other stores that sell food. Additional food and paper goods needed are purchased through Sam’s [Club].”
The average cost to feed one person one meal per day at GCS is $1.71.
“With the exception of the North Texas Food Bank, Grand Central Station does not receive any federal or state support,” Bray said. “We felt it was important for this to be a community-supported soup kitchen. We invited, early on in the plans and execution of those plans, all churches to become involved. Our initial volunteer teams came from those churches, and then some of those church members pulled in their business and industries to have teams of volunteers. We receive multiple meat and food donations from industries and businesses in Sherman and Denison.”
GCS is financed mainly by private entities. Bray said this allows them some independence to make decisions on policies and procedures.
“We have always felt that as citizens and members of our community that we have a responsibility to help one another and all of our volunteers have decided that they want to be a part of that decision,” she said. “Most of our donations are specifically designated for food, which is great, though GCS is always in need for funding for operational costs, where there is a big need for financial assistance.”
Churches that regularly volunteer at the station are from Whitesboro, Whitewright, Bells, McKinney, Anna, Van Alstyne, Denison, Sherman, Pottsboro and Gunter. On May 19, a cowboy church out of Whitewright brought food to the station and cooked a cowboy-style meal on open fires. About 100 guests came to the luncheon.
Other programs that GCS oversees are The Green House, Tools 4 Schools and Children’s Express.
“For over 40 years, The Green House food pantry and clothes closet has served homeless and under-served visitors with food and clothing at no cost,” Bray said. “No appointment is needed, only an ID for each family member.”
In 2017, The Green House served 2,886 families and 7,554 individuals. More than 127,750 lbs. of food and 27,561 clothing and household items were given out. That year, about 35 volunteers served 6,290 hours at the house located at 921 E. Houston Street in Sherman.
The house is open from 1-4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
“Tools 4 Schools currently accommodates 41 campuses in the 13 school districts within Grayson county,” Bray said. “This includes Pre-K through 8th grade and is coordinated through a special needs assessment involving the school principals and counselors. Supplies are delivered directly to the campuses by community volunteers.”
Children’s Express is a supplemental food program for elementary age children. The program began in 2013 and helps to feed children during the summer months and during Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring break periods.
“February 2016, GCS expanded the program to include weekend lunches during the school year,” Bray said. “The Backpack Food Program is one of Children’s Express’ major initiatives to ensure that chronically hungry children in need have balanced, nutritious food they need in order to learn and grow. Backpacks are stocked with nutritious, child-friendly, easy-to-prepare food and distributed to children on the last day before the weekend.”
The program serves about 500 children across Grayson County each week. Each backpack full of food is estimated to be worth $10.
A new program came through the help of the Wilson N. Jones Foundation last year.
“Many of our visitors are in need of dental work, not your regular maintenance, but extractions due to severe toxic infections,” Bray said. “Several have gone to the emergency room only to be told they need dental extractions and, of course, haven’t had money to go to a dentist. Thanks to this program, we can provide these services for them. We have two local dentists who help this program tremendously through donated time and reduced cost of services. It allows the funding to go so much further.”
Bray also said that the rewards from this program are powerful and have saved lives.
“Satisfaction working here at the soup kitchen is endless and grows on all of us each and every day,” she said. “We have a few visitors that come and take, take, take, thinking they are entitled…those individuals are very few and far between and for the most part they soon acclimate to the giving environment of who we are. Many of our visitors help out here at the soup kitchen and help support each other and always welcome newcomers.”
The mission at Grand Central Station is so far beyond serving food, Bray said.
“This is a safe haven for many to get away from their current drama, a place where their spirits can rest, rejuvenate and heal, where they can find honor, dignity and respect,” she said. “It’s also a cool place to come to in the summer and a warm place in the winter.”