Emily Brice in her Confidence Kitchen

Emily Brice (third from left) in her Confidence Kitchen with her cooks in training.

Every Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the commercial kitchen at Mountain Bible Church hums with activity.

It’s called the Confidence Kitchen.

There’s a story behind that name. A story that includes a pathway to returning to health and wealth for those who have given up.

Emily Brice runs the enterprise. Through her own healing from trauma, mental illness and addiction she has created a program to teach food handling and life skills. What the person learning the skills does with the information is up to them, but Brice can find them a job, counseling or simply lead them to make healthy food choices.

“It’s like a continuum of care,” she said.

Continuum of care is the new buzzword to explain the steps necessary to get a person off the streets, into their own home with enough resources to succeed.

There is an ever-increasing need to find solutions as the nation faces a crisis of homeless exacerbated by the pandemic. People have lost jobs and homes. Stress has inflamed mental illness, leading many to the breaking point. In the older population, spouses have died leaving their partner overwhelmed with having to do it all. Brice now sees more than she’d like of Payson’s elderly living out of cars in the Walmart parking lot.

Brice and her husband Skyler have a vision of giving those who need help a hand up to a new way of living based on hope and health.

The Brices run the Payson Homeless and Homeless Veterans Initiative. The Initiative started during the winter of 2019-20. Payson Mayor Tom Morrissey, local churches and those concerned about the homeless gathered to create the nonprofit Payson Homeless and Homeless Veterans Initiative. The first goal of the organization was to get people out of the woods and off the streets during the coldest part of the year. Feed them a warm meal. Offer a hot shower and laundry with a place to sleep for the night.

That first winter had success addressing immediate needs — but Emily and Skyler had more ambition.

They dreamed of providing a leg up to get out of the hole people dig themselves into when they experience crisis or fall into the despair due to health, mental health or financial issues. While Skyler focuses on connecting people to counseling or buying them a ticket home, Emily cooks.

“I’m a chef. My job now is to teach ... confidence,” she said. “There is no ego in my kitchen. You can’t heal if you’re micromanaged.”

At first, it all seemed overwhelming as the pandemic shut down the warming center early and kept it from housing many the next winter. Volunteers feared coming for fear of getting sick. Donations continued to flow, but the Brices carried the workload.

Then the Backbone Fire ignited.

“COVID divided us, the fire connected us,” said Emily.

Community rises

to meet the crisisAs evacuees from Pine and Strawberry flooded into town seeking refuge, traffic delayed Red Cross volunteers and other set-up efforts.

Morrissey reached out to Emily for help. He asked for food and bedding.

The Brices felt overwhelmed, but plunged ahead. Emily sent out a plea for help and the community responded.

Volunteers poured in from churches and the community. Donations allowed Emily to cook up a storm. The Red Cross ended up hiring her to provide three meals a day.

But after five days of serving hundreds of breakfasts, lunches and dinners, she had no energy. So, she again asked for help. Local restaurants like the Pinon Cafe, Delicious Cafe, El Rancho, Danziesen Dairy store, Lyman Ranches, Macky’s and Kendra’s Bakery stepped in to provide hundreds of meals and supplies.

“For the rest of those five days they helped,” said Emily.

The connections gave Emily the idea to create the Confidence Kitchen.

She reached out to the Mountain Bible Church. This church has long been involved with feeding the community. But like so many other efforts that stalled during the pandemic, their program had lost steam. Leadership welcomed Emily and loved her idea.

“Since our Confidence Kitchen launched, our food program is growing by the numbers,” said Emily. “We are feeding up to 40 (people) a night.”

Many who are not in crisis come to celebrate community. A local minister stopped by to thank Emily for the delicious meal and for what she does. She’s had business owners and school teachers come to eat at the community table.

“Beautiful things are happening,” said Emily.

Already one of her mentees has found a job at a local restaurant.

Others, such as a 90-year-old lady, have found a community that values what she can do.

“I asked if she could peel potatoes and she said, ‘I sure can,’” said Emily.

Emily has left the rest up to God.

On Monday, she arrived at the kitchen with half a chicken and a few veggies. By the time 10 a.m. rolled around Cassie Lyman of Lyman Ranches had delved a whole beef purchased through donations. The Payson Community Garden called to set up donations of fresh locally grown produce. Another local gardener brought in bags of greens and squash. Earlier, a local doctor donated a whole pig. The restaurants that helped during the Backbone Fire have continued to pledge hundreds of meals each month. Rim View Community Church has committed to donate $1,000 per month and plans to challenge other churches in the area to do the same.

“This is the start to our all-indigenous village food pantry project working with all the locals with their fresh produce, fruits, vegetables, meats and love,” said Emily.

She’s short one important ingredient, however — volunteers.

The Initiative lost their volunteer coordinator during the pandemic. It makes it difficult to follow up on inquiries or reach out to organizations to find more help, but Emily is confident it will all work out.

If interested in attending a dinner or volunteering or donating, call the Warming Center at 928-474-3190. Call or text 928-970-2041.

Meals are served seven days a week from 4:30 to 6:30 at the Mount Cross Lutheran Church, 601 E. Highway 260.

Contact the reporter at mnelson@payson.com

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