Local couple offers solace with free cups of chili

Sarah Eames | The Daily Star Kristina Strain stirs a pot of vegetarian chili in her kitchen Thursday before friends and neighbors pulled up alongside the curb at her Gilbertsville residence for a free to-go meal.

GILBERTSVILLE — In light of widespread business closures amid coronavirus concerns, Kristina and Patrick Strain decided to serve chili to friends and neighbors in need from the front porch of their Spring Street home every Thursday.

“It was kind of a how-could-I-not moment when I saw all the schools close,” Kristina said. “A lot of restaurants were stepping up and offering a free slice of pizza for any kid for however long this lasts, and I thought about Gilbertsville. There really aren’t any restaurants in Gilbertsville, so who’s going to feed the hungry Gilbertsville kids?”

The Strains are self-employed: Patrick is a property manager, and Kristina manages her own line of natural skincare products called Badgerface Beauty Supply.

“We’re very flexible, we don’t have kids; we’re not suddenly thrust into some alien territory, so I said well, we can make room in our week for this,” Kristina said.

Kristina said she soaks the beans overnight and throws together the onions, bell peppers, crushed tomatoes and seasoning around four hours before serving.

“I don’t really follow a recipe,” she said. “I’m a good cook — I guess you could say soup is kind of my specialty. It’s nothing gourmet, but it’s hearty and I knew it would be filling, nutritious — everyone can eat it, because it’s vegetarian — and fairly economical.”

The couple handed out just a few bowls throughout the afternoon Thursday, and delivered several to older friends and neighbors.

“We didn’t ask for RSVPs or anything, so we didn’t know how many people to expect,” Kristina said. “Even if people don’t necessarily come out for chili, I feel like hearing about it and knowing that something is being done is helpful.”

When she announced the event on Facebook, Kristina said she received an outpouring of support from the community.

Gilbert Produce, which runs a farmstand at the edge of town during the summer months, offered to supply dried beans for the meal. An anonymous benefactor sponsored the donation of 30 rolls made by Heather Covington, owner of Heather’s Artisan Breads and Craft Candy, and fellow Gilbertsville resident JoAnn Fredette provided homemade chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies.

“It was really kind of a domino effect,” Kristina said.

Kristina and Patrick said they plan to serve curbside meals for the next three weeks, “but we’re hoping somebody else will pick up the baton.”

Soup will be served in 8-ounce to-go containers starting at noon every Thursday until April 16. Service is curbside, and patrons are asked to remain in their vehicles. A yellow scarf tied to the porch will signal that food has run out.

“Doing something for other people really makes you less afraid — it makes me less afraid, less anxious,” Kristina said. “You can’t control tomorrow, but you can make a pot of chili today and make it good.”

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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