Compton’s Love Kitchen retires its head chef
Mary Lawson served dinner every Monday to the community for 32 years.
By Christin Davis
Having never missed a Monday night in 32 years of serving dinner to those needing a meal in Compton, Calif., Mary Lawson, 68, retired as head chef of the Compton Corps’ Love Kitchen on April 30.
In a surprise ceremony before her final dinner for the community as head chef, friends and staff of The Salvation Army alike thanked Lawson for her unwavering service. Each week—and on Thanksgiving and Christmas day—the Love Kitchen serves dinner to 80 people on average, which equates to roughly 150,000 meals served during Lawson’s tenure.
“You never turned nobody away,” said one woman who ate at the kitchen in its early days. “I can’t thank you enough for coming into my life and making me part of your life; I’m so full today.”
Compton City Council Member Janna Zurita presented Lawson with a resolution from the city, acknowledging her “exemplary commitment to making a difference.”
“God gives me the menu and I make it; it’s not that I love to cook, but that God has committed me to this work,” said Lawson, who also serves as the president of the Compton Commission for Women. “This is a five-star feeding program, and when people come in, I like to treat them like they’re in my home.”
Compton Corps Officer Lt. Robert Davidson said in this predominantly low-income community, people need meals. “The Love Kitchen runs entirely on donations, and at times when it didn’t have support, Mary personally funded these meals,” he said.
Lawson began attending the Compton Corps in 1977 with her husband, Frank. She decided the area needed a feeding program, and started the Love Kitchen in 1980.
“You made your mark on humanity…on this sphere,” Davidson said to Lawson during the ceremony. “You made a difference, and we will be retiring your apron in your honor.”
Lawson’s husband, Frank, said you simply can’t keep Lawson away from the Love Kitchen. While cooking a few weeks ago, on her 47th wedding anniversary, Lawson sustained a third degree burn on her forearm. “She is a true missionary for The Salvation Army, and believes in feeding people a hot and balanced meal,” he said. “And whether she’s cooking for me or for 80 people, it’s seasoned the same; I’m always amazed.”
Lawson’s final menu included turkey meatloaf, cooked cabbage and kale, potatoes, cornbread and bread pudding—all made from scratch. Before dinner, Lawson encouraged, sang, and prayed with those who came to eat. “Look forward, not back,” she told the crowd. “Look up, not down.”
The Love Kitchen will continue serving dinner on Mondays, now under the leadership of Gwen Haynes, and with occasional visits from Lawson.