In a floral dress and flat shoes, Shari Shore moved from the counters to the pantry in the church kitchen of the Episcopal Church of Our Savior. This night’s menu was cheesy chicken and rice casserole, garlic bread, salads and cake with fresh strawberries.
For eight years she’s spent Wednesday afternoons here, hand-preparing a meal well into the evening. Dinner is served that evening, bringing anywhere between 75 and 115 attendees.
Shore is one of North Platte Telegraph’s seven outstanding volunteers this year, after a string of nominations came in. One asked to remain anonymous, not wanting additional spotlight. The others were surprised at their volunteer gigs, showed the Telegraph their unpaid service and shared why they keep helping. The other five nominees will be highlighted in the April 29 edition of the Telegraph.
In Shore’s nomination letter, Wesley Smith said that Shore often spends the majority of each Wednesday buying groceries for the meal before preparing it. Shore also works fulltime as a counselor in North Platte. Later, Shore said that Smith is her significant other — she joked that he must have nominated her for all the time she spends away from him.
Shore’s weekly meals began with about 25 attendees.
“I just said, ‘Father, I love to cook,” Shore said, about her initial conversation with the Rev. Jeffrey Nelson at the church.
Shore serves many families that are on a fixed income, many with young children and others who are homeless — “a lot of people who run out of money at the end of the month,” Shore said.
At the dinners, attendees can also fill out sheets, requesting gas vouchers, help with utility funds and the like.
Shore wants attendees to feel welcome and receive a full, loving meal — she often tries to include each of the food groups.
“It’s not just hot dogs and chips,” she said. “We never do hot dogs and chips.”
Shore’s love of cooking, and helping, came early.
“My mother was a fabulous cook, and she loves to feed people,” Shore said. “We were always feeding people.”
Shore’s daughter lives in North Platte, and her son in Lincoln. When visiting for the holidays, her kids come help at the dinner, Shore said. They’ve also taken on their mother’s love of food.
“Actually they call me all the time” for recipes, Shore said. “But I’m a dump cook, so they have to learn how to dump things in,” she said with a laugh, about her lack of using specific measurements.
Shore’s meal ends after she tells “a bad joke,” and you don’t get to eat unless you laugh.
“They think I’m very funny,” Shore said with a smile.
The church helps fund the dinners and assistance through fundraisers and donations. Shore often doesn’t know what she’s making until the afternoon — she doesn’t stress, and lets it come from God, she said. Her recipes are also influenced by her mother.
When asked what keeps Shore coming back to the task, she grinned.
“I think it’s fun,” she said. “I think it’s the most fun thing I get to do.”
Shore’s volunteers come from the church, other churches and some who are on probation and need community service. Julie Hlavaty recently began volunteering for the dinner, and came to love watching Shari chop up fresh produce and prepare the meals.
“This is not junk food,” Hlavaty said. “This is from her heart.”