Salute Our Heroes: Woman uses culinary skills as cook at Topeka Salvation Army

13 NEWS at 10 p.m.
Published: Feb. 24, 2023 at 8:22 AM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Jean McGinley has been a cook for 45 years.

These days, the 67-year-old McGinley isn’t working at a restaurant.

Instead, she’s the cook at the Salvation Army, 1320 S.E. 6th Ave., where she prepares up to 1,000 meals a week for people in the Topeka community.

“I feel like it’s a calling,” McGinley says. “I feel like it’s what I enjoy doing. Each and every day, I enjoy this. I enjoy coming in here. I feel that if you can’t come to a job and enjoy it, then you have no business being there.

“I come in here every day and do the job because they need me just as much as I need them in my life.”

McGinley prepares hot lunches that are served from noon to 1 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays at the Salvation Army Citadel, 1320 S.E. 6th Ave. in East Topeka.

She also prepares sack lunches that are served from noon to 1 p.m. on Fridays.

In addition, she prepares hot breakfasts that are served from 9 to 10:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

All of the meals are free.

Hundreds of people make their way to the Salvation Army each week for McGinley’s meals.

“It depends on the weather,” she said of the number of people who come to the Salvation Army for meals. “We serve approximately 700 to 1,000 meals a week with sack lunches and all.

“This is a job here that you have to be very, very compassionate about to do it, because if you’re not, then you do not belong in this capacity.

“It’s something I love,” she added. “I come from a family of cooks and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

McGinley says she makes most of her meals from scratch.

“If you’re smiling at them and servicing them,” she says, “then you’re usually going to get that back.”

Assisting McGinley in the kitchen are Dena Shaw

Dennis Tolle, of Osage City, said he appreciates the meals at the Salvation Army.

“It’s excellent,” said Tolle, who drives for DoorDash in Topeka. “Like I say, it’s kind of a daily grind out there, so to be able to come in and get something to eat and not have to worry about having to buy lunch or something, it helps in the long run.”

Capt. Cristian Lopez, corps commander at the Topeka Salvation Army, says he’s glad to have McGinley on his team.

“If you want one word, ‘blessing,’” Lopez said. “A blessing to a lot of people -- hundreds of people that come looking for that warm meal.

“I know that I’ve been talking with them and they love to come here. They love to know that Jean has prepared a meal for them that feels cozy, that feels warm, that feels love. So, yeah, it’s a blessing.”

In addition to providing meals each weekday that it is open, the Salvation Army also serves as a location for the Topeka Rescue Mission’s Mobile Access Partnership program on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which provides assistance to the capital city’s homeless population.

In addition, the Salvation Army provides a warming center in periods of extreme cold weather and a cooling center during periods of extreme heat in Topeka.

The Salvation Army also provides food, utility, rent and clothing assistance for individuals in Topeka.