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New soup kitchen manager likes working closer to home

The Lebanon Soup Kitchen has a new kitchen manager, as well as 1,000 pounds of dog and cat food.

When Wyatt King of RKI Insurance heard the soup kitchen fares well on human food donations but not so well on pet food donations, the locally-owned company decided to step up and help.

“It took off,” King said of his request to the community to donate. “We thought maybe at first we’d do 250 pounds and it blew past that to 500. It blew past that, so we extended it and went for 1,000 pounds, a half-ton of pet food.”

Wyatt King with his new puppy, Red, poses next to Tony Lyman and 1,000 pounds of pet food donated from the community to the Lebanon Soup Kitchen.

After 557 pounds of dog food and 447 pounds of cat food were collected, new Soup Kitchen Manager Tony Lyman stopped by to pick it all up. At that point it seemed like a good idea to introduce him to the community.

Lyman was born in Albany and grew up in Days Creek.

“We had a real big community involvement in the schools, so I’ve always been into helping out the community and things like that,” he said.

When he moved to Lebanon two years ago, Lyman worked as a power line inspector, but he found it was a job that involved him staying away from home a lot.

“Now that I have a family, I wanted to start helping out more in this community,” he said.

When he saw the position open up at the soup kitchen, it made sense to Lyman to submit an application for the job. Not only does he live just three blocks from First Christian Church where the soup kitchen operates from, but he and his family attend church there as well.

Lyman said he has experience managing kitchens and local bars, and he added that at home he tends to cook too much food.

“I’ve always had a knack for cooking for lots of people,” he said.

That’s the kind of experience the soup kitchen needs. Outgoing manager Christine Strawn said they cooked more than 19,000 meals in 2022. That would equate to more than 100 meals a day during their operating hours on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Strawn was the kitchen manager for four years. She said after her more than 20 years working in the nonprofit sector, she was ready to retire, but she gave the Soup Kitchen Board five months’ notice.

“I didn’t want to leave them high and dry,” she said. “This is a very unique position, so trying to find that right person (takes time).”

As candidates for her position filed applications and shadowed her for a day, Strawn said she was impressed by Lyman because he kept returning to volunteer and learn more.

“He was very much showing interest,” she said. “There’s a lot of things about Tony that just jumped out.”

Recently retired manager Christine Strawn cooks up pizza donated for the soup kitchen by Papa Murphy’s on one of her last days.

And he didn’t disappoint when the ice storm hit in January. His first day hadn’t even officially begun, but Strawn was stranded at home and unable to drive to the church, so she called him up to see if she could “throw him” in early.

“He pulled it off like a champ,” she said.

Lyman noted that the Lebanon Soup Kitchen has not missed a single day of serving meals since it opened in 1989.

“That’s one of those big things, you gotta keep those people fed,” he said.

Now officially retired, Strawn sets her sights upon serving on the soup kitchen board and running a small farm.

Lyman officially took the reins Jan. 26 and is learning how to utilize game meat (bear, deer, elk) in his menu. Sometimes, though, he receives donations from establishments such as 1847, Grocery Outlet and Papa Murphy’s that have to be used right away. That means he has to alter his meal plans quickly.

“It’s a real shootin’ from the hips (type situation),” he said.

Though Lyman’s new position is a pay cut for him, he appreciates that the schedule works around his son’s preschool hours and the fact he’s more connected to the church this way.

“It’s morally paid through my heart, and also it keeps me at home,” he said.