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A tale of two soup kitchens: Hudson Falls organizations continue a legacy

HUDSON FALLS — Two separate organizations with very different outlooks and about 5 miles apart are united in their mission of feeding the hungry, and in the legacy from which they sprung.

The late Rev. Doreen Koch directed the Cornerstone Soup Kitchen for 23 years, first starting it out of the basement of the Church of the Nazarene on Main Street in the village.

With the help of local businessman and property owner Rick Wagner, she moved her mission to 293 1/2 Main St., serving hundreds over the years from Washington and Warren counties.

Koch died of cancer in December 2016. Even when she was too sick to operate the soup kitchen, Wagner said Koch would be on the phone, talking to her regulars.

“It was a big loss,” Wagner said of her death. “She provided a lot of emotional support, mental support, for a lot of people that came to the soup kitchen that needed somebody to talk to.”

But two separate groups have continued her giving spirit, one setting up shop again in the same location and another moving out toward Fort Edward on Route 196.

“There’s not a community anywhere in this area that doesn’t have issues of hunger, issues of poverty and in some cases, issues of homelessness,” said Hudson Falls Deputy Mayor Bob Cook. “It exists. We live in an area that is economically distressed and has been for many years. It’s definitely needed in the community. When Doreen (Koch) was running it, it was always a mainstay in the community, so yes, the need is certainly there.”

The establishment on 1/2 Main St. is run by Jim Brayman and was renamed in Koch’s honor to Doreen’s Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry. The establishment on 1767 state Route 196 carries the old Cornerstone Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry name and is run by members of the Cornerstone Full Gospel Church.

While the two have sprung from the same roots, Doreen’s Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry is at risk of closing its doors. Brayman opened it in August 2017, and he and his partner, Robin Renaud, are having trouble paying the bills, they said.

Meanwhile, the Cornerstone Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry is constructing a new building next door to the church, which it hopes will be open in time for the summer.


At 4 p.m. on Dec. 18, Brian Dudley walked into Doreen’s, greeted by Brayman and several volunteers waiting for him behind a counter.

He’d taken the bus there from Fort Edward, about a 15-minute ride, and was packing up some oranges to bring home before getting a hot meal.

Dudley and his brother live together in temporary housing in the village of Fort Edward. He gets about $100 a month in food stamps, but he said it can be hard to make that last. It’s tricky where he lives, too, because Stewart’s Shops and Cumberland Farms are the closest places for him to get food, and they’re expensive, he said.

Market 32, which is on Broadway, is a 35-minute walk uphill, and he’s not always up for the trek, he added.

“It’s good to get something to eat,” he said about coming to Doreen’s. “It helps when you’re tight.”

Dudley also likes to go to the soup kitchen to meet other people.

Gloria Stewart, who goes by the nickname “Dolly,” walked in with a few others, and started chatting up the place. She’s been coming to Doreen’s for the past three years or so.

“This is the most excellent soup kitchen I’ve ever been to,” she said. “Excellent food, very clean, and very nice people.”

Pearl Tabone and Sandra Cowles sat with another woman at a table, with a Christmas tree lit up behind them. Cowles said coming to the soup kitchen gets her out of the house for a nutritious meal. They usually walk to the place, which is easily accessible by bus, walking or biking.

Brayman, who started the Stuff the Ambulance program with the Fort Edward Rescue Squad, knew Koch through the food drive. After she died, Brayman said he decided to take up the reins.

When he first opened the doors, only about 10 people came through. Now he sees between 30 and 40 people per day, and helps out five to 10 families a week through the food pantry. They also provide food for Hudson Falls and Fort Edward schools’ backpack programs, which give out lunches to some students that might not have food for the weekend.

Financial challenges

Brayman’s partner Renaud reached out to The Post-Star about writing an article because the organization was having trouble raising enough money to pay the bills. Renaud said on Dec. 18 that it costs about $40,000 a year to run the place, between rent, utilities, trash, phone and paying to be a part of the regional food bank.

“We get nervous when we don’t have money coming in,” Renaud said. “We try our best to help the community. We just want to get the word out there that we do need to get some help financially.”

Wagner said he sees Brayman and Renaud struggling, and he’s done his best to help.

“We have to pay taxes on the building,” he said. “We have to, our insurance, my insurance on my end is extraordinary because of the soup kitchen application, and it’s hard to even find a company that will insure me for that application. I’ve got them as a rental as a bare minimum where I can meet my expenses and break even. They’re behind. They’re behind. I hate to air a lot of information. They’re behind. They’re struggling.”

Renaud said the organization has plenty of food donations from local grocery stores and gets fare from the food bank.

The Post-Star asked Renaud on Dec. 26 about how the organization’s finances were being managed considering Renaud pleaded guilty in July 2011 to stealing thousands of dollars from a fund for families that lost six children in a Fort Edward fire in June 2010. She had organized a spat of fundraising events for the victims, but not all the money was accounted for.

Following a bitter court case, Renaud pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor petit larceny charge in a deal satisfying seven felony indictment charges. Her past has come up in other situations, including last year when Moreau Supervisor Gardner Congdon hired Renaud to be his secretary.

“I really didn’t want it brought up at all,” Renaud told The Post-Star.

In a subsequent email on Dec. 26, Renaud said Brayman was the one who does the banking. According to the latest nonprofit forms filed with the IRS, Renaud is listed as the bookkeeper and treasurer.

When asked about that, Renaud said in an email on Dec. 27 that Gloria Duprey is the current treasurer and is in charge of donations, record keeping, bill paying and filing of annual reports. Renaud and Brayman, through their joint email address for Doreen’s, wrote “Robin Renaud is a dedicated volunteer who assists Jim Brayman with the operation of Doreen’s by cooking, cleaning, ensuring other volunteers are also staffed to assist with meal preparation and delivery.”

“Fundraising events are low-cost and designed to help raise awareness of food insecurity and the services provided by Doreen’s and to date, funding has been insufficient to cover the operational costs,” the statement added.

Brayman did not offer a specific comment.

The organization has been partially running off a $20,000 donation from James Burch and his mother, Joan, as well as nearly 30 fundraisers a year.

On Dec. 18, James and Joan sat in the soup kitchen for a meal. They both knew Koch, and James used to come often to eat at the soup kitchen.

When Koch died, soon after his father and aunt died of cancer, too.

gcraig / Gwendolyn Craig, 

A photo of Doreen Koch, the late executive director of the Cornerstone Soup Kitchen and namesake of Doreen's Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry, hangs inside the establishment on Dec. 18 at 293 1/2 Main St. in Hudson Falls.

“I don’t know if you believe in spirits,” James said, “but Doreen came to me in a vision and told me to donate. I was crying and crying.”

James said his father and aunt left him money, and he made two separate donations of $10,000 to Doreen’s Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry.

“Her spirit is here right now,” James said, looking at the adjacent wall with a flowering plant entwined around a cross. “There. Every now and then it moves. I think it’s her.”


When Koch died, Vernon Collier said he and Wagner put their heads together for how to keep her legacy going.

Collier was the reverend of the Cornerstone Full Gospel Church and the president of the soup kitchen and food pantry, though Koch was the face of the operation.

Collier said he and Wagner “had a little conflict in the beginning, and that’s kind of gone by us now,” but he and the organization’s board took the food pantry and soup kitchen out to Route 196, operating out of the church.

It’s about 5 miles from the center of town and is not accessible by public transportation.

“I didn’t think this was going to work,” Collier said.

But now the place serves about 125 families a week.

The organization is currently more of a food pantry, with donations coming in from local grocery stores and the food bank. Angelique Bartholomew, volunteer coordinator and wife of the current pastor, the Rev. Derik Bartholomew, said they partner with Open Door Mission in Glens Falls, too.

The soup kitchen was serving some slow cooker meals on Dec. 26, but the halls of the church weren’t as busy as usual, Collier said. He attributed it to people thinking they might not be open after the Christmas holiday, but several people got rides to pick up items from the food pantry.

Collier said he doesn’t think Cornerstone competes with Doreen’s at all.

“We want them to succeed as well as us,” he said.

Bartholomew agreed.

“We’re glad there’s still something there for people who don’t have transportation,” she said.

Cornerstone’s future

As Cornerstone continues to help an increasing number of people, the space inside the church has gotten tight.

Collier, who still lives in the parsonage adjacent to the church, often has his kitchen occupied by volunteers making hot meals for the soup kitchen.

But the organization is constructing a new building just outside of the church to specifically house the food pantry and soup kitchen. Bartholomew said she hopes it will be done by the summer, but the work is slow and steady.

gcraig / Gwendolyn Craig, 

The Cornerstone Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry is building a new establishment next to its current home and church at 1767 state Route 196 in Hudson Falls.

“As money comes in and the Lord provides, we’re purchasing things,” she said.

The framework appears to be done — a 100-foot by 50-foot one-floor structure that is vacant with open windows, but filled with immense potential to the visionary Collier.

“It’s a big deal,” he said. “It’s beyond my comprehension and understanding.”

Bartholomew and Collier said they won’t be in debt once it’s finished, though the cost has increased from about $171,000 to $250,000. They’re currently raising funds to keep the work going, and hoping for good weather to install the roofing and windows.

While the new building stands outside the old pantry with a promising and hopeful future, the people who run it continue bustling inside the church, offering to help hold boxes as people pick out cereal, peanut butter and fresh fruit from stocked shelves.

“We’re the best kept secret in town,” Collier said.

Photos: Helping in Hudson Falls

gcraig / Gwendolyn Craig, 

From left, Jim Brayman, executive director of Doreen's Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry, helps Brian Dudley, of Fort Edward, pack some food for home Dec. 18 in Hudson Falls.

gcraig / Gwendolyn Craig, 

From left, Genevieve Cassidy, of Glens Falls, and Olivia Connolly and Ayva Ferrin, both of Granville, volunteer recently at the Cornerstone Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry on state Route 196 in Hudson Falls. 

Minimum wage rising in 20 states and numerous cities

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — At Granny Shaffer's restaurant in Joplin, Missouri, owner Mike Wiggins is reprinting the menus to reflect the 5, 10 or 20 cents added to each item.

A two-egg breakfast will cost an extra dime, at $7.39. The price of a three-piece fried chicken dinner will go up 20 cents, to $8.78. The reason: Missouri's minimum wage is rising.

Wiggins said the price hikes are necessary to help offset an estimated $10,000 to $12,000 in additional annual pay to his staff as a result of a new minimum wage law taking effect Tuesday.

"For us it's very simple. There's no big pot of money out there to get the money out of" for the required pay raises, Wiggins said.

New minimum wage requirements will take effect in 20 states and almost two dozen cities around the start of the new year, affecting millions of workers. The state wage hikes range from an extra nickel per hour in Alaska to a $1-an-hour bump in Maine, Massachusetts and for California employers with more than 25 workers.

Seattle's largest employers will have to pay workers at least $16 an hour starting Tuesday. In New York City, many businesses will have to pay at least $15 an hour as of today. That's more than twice the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

A variety of other new state laws also take effect Tuesday. Those include revisions to sexual harassment policies stemming from the #MeToo movement, restrictions on gun sales following deadly mass shootings and revamped criminal penalties as officials readjust the balance between punishment and rehabilitation.

The state and local wage laws come amid a multi-year push by unions and liberal advocacy groups to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour nationwide. Few are there yet, but many states have ratcheted up wages through phased-in laws and adjustments for inflation.

In Arkansas and Missouri, voters this fall approved ballot initiatives raising the minimum wage after state legislators did not. In Missouri, the minimum wage will rise from $7.85 to $8.60 an hour on Tuesday as the first of five annual increases that will take it to $12 an hour by 2023.

At Granny Shafffer's in Joplin, waitress Shawna Green will see her base pay go up. But she has mixed emotions about it.

"We'll have regulars, and they will notice, and they will bring it to our attention, like it's our fault and our doings" that menu prices are increasing, she said. "They'll back off on something, and it's usually their tips, or they don't come as often."

Economic studies on minimum wage increases show that some workers benefit, while others might see their work hours reduced. Businesses might place a higher value on experienced workers, making it more challenging for entry-level employees to find jobs.

Seattle, the fastest-growing large city in the U.S., is at the forefront of the movement for higher minimum wages. A local ordinance raised the minimum wage to as much as $11 an hour in 2015, then as much as $13 in 2016, depending on the size of the employer and whether it provided health insurance.

A series of studies by the University of Washington has produced evolving conclusions.

In May, the researchers determined that Seattle's initial increase to $11 an hour had an insignificant effect on employment but that the hike to $13 an hour resulted in a 6.9 percent decline in the hours worked for those earning under $19 an hour, resulting in a net reduction in paychecks.

In October, however, those same researchers reached a contrasting conclusion. They said Seattle workers employed at low wages experienced a modest reduction in hours worked after the minimum wage increased, but nonetheless saw a net increase in average pretax earnings of $10 a week. That gain generally went to those who already were working more hours while those who were working less saw no significant change in their earnings.

The federal minimum wage was last raised in 2009. Since then, 29 states, the District of Columbia and dozens of other cities and counties set minimum wages above the federal floor. Some repeatedly raised their rates.

"The federal minimum wage has really become irrelevant," said Michael Saltsman, managing director of the Employment Policies Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based group that receives funding from businesses and opposes minimum wage increases.

The new state minimum wage laws could affect about 5.3 million workers who are earning less than the new standards, according to the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute, based in Washington, D.C. That equates to almost 8 percent of the workforce in those 20 states but doesn't account for additional minimum wage increases in some cities.

Trump's promise of a wall may not be fulfilled as advertised

WASHINGTON — Three confidantes of President Donald Trump, including his departing chief of staff, indicated that the president’s signature campaign pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border would not be fulfilled as advertised.

Trump sparked fervent chants of “Build that wall!” at rallies before and after his election and more recently cited a lack of funding for a border wall as the reason for partially shutting down the government. At times the president waved off the idea that the wall be anything but a wall.

However, White House chief of staff John Kelly told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Sunday that Trump abandoned the notion of “a solid concrete wall early on in the administration.”

“To be honest, it’s not a wall,” Kelly said, adding that the mix of technological enhancements and “steel slat” barriers the president now wants along the border resulted from conversations with law enforcement professionals.

Along the same lines, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway called discussion of the apparent contradiction “a silly semantic argument.”

“There may be a wall in some places, there may be steel slats, there may be technological enhancements,” Conway told “Fox News Sunday.” “But only saying ‘wall or no wall’ is being very disingenuous and turning a complete blind eye to what is a crisis at the border.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is close to the president, emerged from a Sunday lunch at the White House to tell reporters that “the wall has become a metaphor for border security” and referred to “a physical barrier along the border.”

Graham said Trump was “open-minded” about a broader immigration agreement, saying the budget impasse presented an opportunity to address issues beyond the border wall. But a previous attempt to reach a compromise that addressed the status of “Dreamers” — young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children— broke down last year as a result of escalating White House demands.

Graham said he hoped to end the shutdown by offering Democrats incentives to get them to vote for wall funding and told CNN before his lunch with Trump that “there will never be a deal without wall funding.”

Graham proposed to help two groups of immigrants get approval to continue living in the U.S: about 700,000 young “Dreamers” brought into the U.S. illegally as children and about 400,000 people receiving temporary protected status because they are from countries struggling with natural disasters or armed conflicts. He also said the compromise should include changes in federal law to discourage people from trying to enter the U.S. illegally.

“Democrats have a chance here to work with me and others, including the president, to bring legal status to people who have very uncertain lives,” Graham said.

The partial government shutdown began Dec. 22 after Trump bowed to conservative demands that he fight to make good on his vow and secure funding for the wall before Republicans lose control of the House on Wednesday. Democrats remained committed to blocking the president’s priority, and with neither side engaging in substantive negotiation, the effect of the partial shutdown was set to spread and to extend into the new year.

In August 2015 during his presidential campaign, Trump made his expectations for the border explicitly clear, as he parried criticism from rival Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor.

“Jeb Bush just talked about my border proposal to build a ‘fence,’” he tweeted. “It’s not a fence, Jeb, it’s a WALL, and there’s a BIG difference!”

Trump suggested as much again in a tweet on Sunday: “President and Mrs. Obama built/has a ten foot Wall around their D.C. mansion/compound. I agree, totally necessary for their safety and security. The U.S. needs the same thing, slightly larger version!”

Talks have been at a stalemate for more than a week, after Democrats said the White House offered to accept $2.5 billion for border security. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told Vice President Mike Pence that it wasn’t acceptable, nor was it guaranteed that Trump, under intense pressure from his conservative base to fulfill his signature campaign promise, would settle for that amount.

Conway claimed Sunday that “the president has already compromised” by dropping his request for the wall from $25 billion, and she called on Democrats to return to the negotiating table.

“It is with them,” she said, explaining why Trump was not reaching out to Democrats.

Democrats maintain that they already presented the White House with three options to end the shutdown, none of which fund the wall, and insist that it’s Trump’s move.

“At this point, it’s clear the White House doesn’t know what they want when it comes to border security,” said Justin Goodman, Schumer’s spokesman. “While one White House official says they’re willing to compromise, another says the president is holding firm at no less than $5 billion for the wall. Meanwhile, the president tweets blaming everyone but himself for a shutdown he called for more than 25 times.”