By Elizabeth Matthews
Gracie’s Kitchen is not a new organization. It’s not being rebranded, making any major announcements or going in a new direction. It’s just a local soup kitchen that has been consistently caring for and feeding us and our neighbors for more than 13 years.
Maryellen Crocker is the director of Gracie’s Kitchen, the brainchild of beloved philanthropist Gracie Preache, a Nassau County native. The idea for the soup kitchen came to Gracie while volunteering for the Homeless Coalition as she saw the tremendous need firsthand. She recognized that assistance to the homeless had to be expanded from Fernandina Beach proper and into Yulee. Gracie needed help, and Maryellen became one of the first volunteers.
Maryellen continues to volunteer, but she inherited the mission when Gracie passed away, just one year after starting the organization.
It started with Gracie, and now Maryellen and an army of volunteers (more than 200 strong) keep the mission alive. On Sept. 10, 2010, the first dinner served just seven people. Today, Gracie’s Kitchen serves 300 meals every night. It’s worth mentioning that this community kitchen served almost 48,000 meals last year and averages 4,500 meals per month.
Gracie’s benefits from an outpouring of support from the county government, individual citizens of Nassau County, local businesses and a variety of charitable organizations. Nassau schools provide space in the old Yulee Middle School. The freezers recently broke down, and when the word got out that Gracie’s needed help, they were back up and running in less than 48 hours with new freezers, and the food that was lost had been replenished — all thanks to a community that wanted to give back to the volunteers and donors who have given so much.
Gracie’s Kitchen has not changed much since its inception. The mission, “Nourish the Hungry & Feed Their Spirit,” is reflected in the meals and other needs that are met through Socks for Souls, the Blessing Box, the Pet Corner, a kitchen garden, a new butterfly garden and a monthly bereavement dinner in honor of lost loved ones.
When dining rooms were shut down during the pandemic, the soup kitchen became a takeout service for awhile. Today, Gracie’s Café again allows for eating in, in a smaller dining venue that has room for the few who prefer to eat at Gracie’s. The kitchen is manned by local teams including church groups, volunteers from local businesses, and high schoolers. They cook and serve on an assigned day and provide a regular hot meal that rivals mom’s home cooking and any restaurant meal.
Gracie’s is open year-round, only closing during the week of Christmas. Gracie’s serves all who come. Maryellen said, “Anybody’s welcome, anyone who needs a meal. Nothing needs to be shown or proved.” They serve regular customers, people passing through town and people from all over Nassau County. Gracie’s gives people the opportunity to do good by taking care of their neighbors and gives people in need a safe place for a good meal.
Gracie’s Kitchen is 100% donation based. The organization’s needs range from money to buy kitchen supplies and non-perishable food to stock the Blessing Box, to pet food and supplies for dogs and cats for the Pet Corner. If you would like to help, Gracie’s accepts monetary donations, and an Amazon wish list can be found on the website, www.gracieskitchenyulee.org.
Gracie’s Kitchen is at 6 Koen Ln., Yulee, FL 32097 and serves dinner Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings from 4:30-6 p.m. Donations may be mailed to P.O. Box 1444, Yulee, FL 32041.