To many in Binghamton and Johnson City, N.Y., Michael Haynes is known simply as “Chef Michael.”
The former professional chef has cooked free, weekly meals for more than a decade as a volunteer at two local United Methodist churches. His healthy dinner creations typically feed around 160 people, and the buffet-style events are open to anyone.
“Our goal is to feed anyone who is hungry,” says Haynes. “Some of our guests are homeless, but we don’t ask. We also have regulars who are local families. We don’t know if they have million-dollar homes or live under a bridge: They’re all welcome at our dinners.”
Each Tuesday, Haynes cooks for The Lord’s Table project at Sarah Jane Johnson United Methodist Church in Johnson City. On Saturdays, he prepares the Saturday Night Alive dinner at Boulevard UMC in Binghamton, and he cooks a monthly dinner hosted by Boulevard UMC for local college students.
Haynes is partly disabled due to a back condition and arthritis and can no longer work full time, but he’s determined to continue his role as Chef Michael at the churches.
“There is such a need out there,” says Haynes. “It’s not just about hunger, but nutrition in general. Too many people can’t afford to buy healthy food for a family of five. It’s cheaper to go out for fast food. It gives me a good feeling in my heart to be able to help in a small way.”
Haynes and fellow volunteers like to tell of the time he experienced a “kitchen miracle.” He says he was fixing chicken and biscuits at Boulevard one night, and planning for about 160 people. Suddenly the pastor came into the kitchen, looking panicked, and said that 200 people had shown up.
"I didn’t know what to do, so I just kept cooking and cooking, and I realized I was cooking more than I’d planned,” Haynes recalls. “The ingredients seemed like they were just appearing from nowhere. At the end of the night, I learned that we’d fed 228 people. I always say, ‘It doesn’t compare with the loaves and fishes, but I did come through with the chicken and biscuits.’”