After five years of managing the Lebanon Soup Kitchen, Janet Contreras will step down and move south. 

“I’m going to be 70 this year, and I think it’s time to retire again,” Contreras said. “Managing the soup kitchen has been an absolutely terrific experience. There wasn’t a day there that I felt like I didn’t make someone’s day better.”

Contreras worked as a cook at the kitchen before stepping up to manager.

She will move in June to Redding, Calif.

Contreras grew up in Portland before moving to California to work in advertising at the San Jose Mercury News for 22 years. That’s when she retired and moved to Lebanon, the first small town she’s lived in.

“I’m amazed by the support of the community of Lebanon,” Contreras said. “You can’t beat this town for people wanting to help.

New manager at soup kitchen

Myra Ullfers will act as interim manager of the soup kitchen for the next few months.

Contreras said Ullfers was a good person to handle the operations until a permanent replacement can be hired.

Ullfers and her husband Kim have volunteered at the soup kitchen on Fridays for a few years.

Ullfers said she doesn’t plan on making any changes to the kitchen. She will let the full-time manager implement anything new if needed.

“My first day was on Monday, (April 2). The foods prepared have been pretty well received by the clients,” Ullfers said.

She is too busy with her home-based cookie business, Myra’s Cookies, to take the job permanently.

“(Ullfers) is very well organized and liked by the clientele,” said Genna Foster, Lebanon Soup Kitchen board secretary.

For several years after the soup kitchen started in 1989, the manager was a volunteer. The kitchen couldn’t find a volunteer to act as manager.

That’s when the board began paying minimum wage to management, Foster said. It is the only paid job at the soup kitchen.

The soup kitchen is paid for by donations from the community, grants, and money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Foster said.

The soup kitchen relies on volunteers from the community. They also work with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, providing offenders an opportunity to do their community service at the kitchen.

The kitchen has seen a decline in meals served in the past couple of years, Foster said.

“People move a lot when they are looking for a job,” Foster said.

According to the soup kitchen’s records, in 2003 the soup kitchen served 28,505 meals. The number of meals served dropped by 9,405 in 2011 compared with 2003.

However, during the past 12 years the kitchen has averaged about 19,000 meals. Last year, 19,156 meals were served.

The kitchen averages 50 to 100 dinners per night, Foster said.

The soup kitchen opened 21 years ago. It is located at 170 E. Grant St., and serves meals from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to the entire community.

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