Northern Division: Serving every county in Minnesota and North Dakota
Bruce Lenzen chops veggies

Cook calls serving meals in St. Cloud ‘eye-opening’

Added on Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Written by Craig Dirkes, writer/photographer for The Salvation Army Northern Division

Bruce Lenzen was in his late 50s and had gone his entire life without volunteering.

Everything changed five years ago, the day he walked inside The Salvation Army in St. Cloud, Minn. He had decided, on a whim, to join staff and volunteers in cooking and serving dozens of free hot lunches.

“It was eye-opening,” recalled Lenzen (pictured above), now 62.

Lenzen had never dreamed there were so many people experiencing homelessness in St. Cloud. He was thrilled to help them. He came back to volunteer again and again.

“You don’t realize there are any homeless people,” Lenzen said. “I got to hear their stories. I saw that we’re all just one catastrophe away from needing a place like (The Salvation Army).”

Barb Nelsen portraitLenzen wound up volunteering regularly for a full year. Eventually, management asked him to accept a paid part-time position, and for good reason: Lenzen just happens to be a career chef.

“Everything he cooks is to die for,” said Barb Nelsen (pictured), St. Cloud Salvation Army food service manager. “We were blessed the day Bruce walked in the door. He adds a gourmet touch to all our meals.”

The joy of cooking

Lenzen spent most of his life cooking at popular Twin Cities restaurants, including the Calhoun Beach Club in Minneapolis and the now-defunct Kings Inn in St. Louis Park. At the Kings Inn, he often prepared meals for music icons such as Jon Bon Jovi and Stevie Nicks.

“The Kings Inn hosted dinners for major record signings and album release parties,” said Lenzen, who eventually moved to the St. Cloud area to care for his aging mother. “Sometimes I’d cook stuffed tenderloin with lobster, and sometimes it’d just be hors d’oeuvres.”

Bruce Lenzen portraitHe enjoys cooking at the St. Cloud Salvation Army because the place keeps him on his toes.

“A lot of the food is donated, so I never know what I’m going to have to work with,” Lenzen said. “One day it’s tuna casserole, the next it’s roast beef, the next it’s spaghetti.”

The lunch program serves between 125 and 215 hot meals every weekday. Breakfast and dinner are served seven days a week for individuals and families living at the St. Cloud Salvation Army’s 69-bed emergency shelter.

Lenzen grew up near St. Cloud and started cooking for his family when he was 13 years old.

“I have nine brothers and sisters, so cooking was definitely something you had to learn,” he said with a laugh.

Food for thought

Lenzen enjoys cooking at The Salvation Army because it allows him to change lives.

Food volunteer“You never know what you might say to somebody that might make a real difference in their life, so you keep on trying,” he said.

He believes that everybody should try cooking and serving meals for people in need.

“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Lenzen said. “The best part about this place is nobody looks down on anybody who comes in. Nobody is better than anyone else. We’re all one big extended family.”

Salvation Army supporters like you are welcome to join our food service teams in Minnesota and North Dakota. Volunteers are needed to help cook, serve, set tables, and clean. Hours are flexible, and the smiles are endless. Find volunteer opportunities.