Saint Alice Catholic Church Father Mark Bentz cuts the ribbon celebrating the new kitchen successfully on the first chop, with Todd Salnas, chief executive for Oregon Network (left) and Patrick Sawyer, PA-C medical provider for RiverBend (right). EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLE

SPRINGFIELD — St. Alice Catholic Church Father Mark Bentz believes that food can bring people together. “Food breaks down barriers,” Bentz said at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the church’s new kitchen on May 19. “You can't remain enemies if you eat together.”

The kitchen is the “fruit of a miracle that was two years in the making,” Bentz said. The project began in the spring of 2019, and was funded in-part through a $115,000 grant from PeaceHealth. 

“As two Catholic-based organizations, we came together with our common missions focused on serving the underserved,”  said Todd Salnas, the chief-executive of PeaceHealth Oregon. The non-profit Catholic health system provided $15,000 more than the church requested. “We’re all about taking a bite out of social disparities and bringing people together and serving them.” 

From left: PeaceHealth staff who invested time and resources into the project pose with their new aprons gifted by the church, Micki Varner, director of mission services, Todd Salnas, chief executive for Oregon Network, and Susan Blane, community health director. EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLE

From the church’s own fundraising and personal donations, St. Alice raised the rest of the nearly $400,000 project. The new kitchen replaces the “warming” kitchen that has been in the parish building since 1999. There used to only be an island, four Bunsen burners, two ovens and a sink. 

Now, the kitchen includes a range, warming oven, griddle, industrial mixer, ice maker, burners, two ovens, convection ovens, commercial dishwashing stations, various sinks and utensils. 

The fully functional kitchen is full of donated appliances, shining with quality. “I see stainless steel cleaner in their future,” said Micki Varner, director of mission services for PeaceHealth. EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLE

“We want to serve our community, not just in clinical facilities, but also in reaching out and knitting the people of Eugene and Springfield together,” Patrick Sawyer said, who is on the church’s administrative council and a PeaceHealth physician assistant.

The St. Joseph Kitchen will act as a place for members of the church’s increasingly diverse congregation — which is more than 50% Hispanic, and also includes members of Filipino, Vietnamese, Italian, German and Ukranian descent — to come together. 

“As restrictions began to wane in the coming months and people are coming back to church, we can begin to rebuild relationships with each other again and share our rich, cultural heritage.” Bentz said. “I look forward to us getting together to share food and our cultures so we can eliminate misunderstandings and become truly one family.”

Bentz said that the congregation has been praying to St. Joseph for intervention of the kitchen since 2017. “I know that St. Joseph has been rebuilding our church both financially and spiritually,” Bentz said. The church dedicated to the kitchen to the saint earlier this month. 

St. Alice Church is in the early stages of using its kitchen to bring its congregation together through food events after mass. Eventually, Bentz said he hopes that the kitchen can be used more broadly in the community, including helping the underserved and houseless. 

“Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our parish’s history that will ripple into the future,” Bentz said. 

Father Bentz