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Unique Community Kitchen Is Set Up Like a Restaurant So Homeless People can Dine with Dignity

Although it’s a soup kitchen for the homeless, Kansas City Community Kitchen is set up to resemble a real restaurant, complete with greeters, waiters, and fancy restaurant-quality meals. The idea is to treat the homeless with respect and allow them to enjoy their meal with dignity.

The kitchen, run by Episcopal Community Services, has been around for 30 years, but it re-opened on Feb 5 with a complete makeover. In its new avatar, volunteer staff at the kitchen serve the homeless every weekday, from 11am to 2pm. A host greets them at the entrance, seats them at a table, and presents a menu created by executive chef Michael Curry. A waiter then asks them what they would like to eat and brings them freshly prepared plated lunches. The new restaurant-style initiative is meant to allow the less fortunate to dine with some dignity.

“We are trying to flip the photo of what a soup kitchen looks like,” explained Mandy Caruso-Yahne, directory of community engagement at Episcopal, adding that everyone is welcome in the kitchen, homeless or not.

Photo: Kansas City Community Kitchen

Curry, who is also the owner of Kansas City restaurant Lil’ Bubba, revealed that he had once lived in poverty and depended on soup kitchens for his daily meals. So he’s happy to be able to give back to the community by developing a variety of interesting and healthy dishes for the menu. He even takes into consideration dietary restrictions based on health conditions or religious beliefs, and asks diners for reviews and suggestions. A lunch plate during Lent, for example, consisted of spiced swai, broccoli cheese casserole, garlic-Parmesan fries with house ketchup, and simple greens salad with tomato-water vinaigrette.

“Last week we had guests asking us when we were going to do some barbecue,” Curry said. “So when we prepared our chicken a couple of days later, we decided to make it into pulled chicken sandwiches with our house-made sauce that doesn’t have as much sugar and salt.”

Photo: Kansas City Community Kitchen

The kitchen is helping volunteers too, by arranging for them to attend the 12-week ECS Culinary Cornerstones Training Program that teaches cooking and financial skills to the unemployed. Students can also use their experience in the kitchen to get apprenticeships at other restaurants, so they can have a real chance at a career in the food industry. “We want to be the place that Kansas City restaurants call when they need good help in their kitchens,” Curry said. “Everyone has a right to be nourished and sustained, and we’ll do that with both food and learning.”

So at the end of the day, everyone who steps into the Kansas City Community Kitchen is happy. “It’s different,” said Brian Oglesby, a homeless man who dines there regularly. “They’re treating me good, like they don’t know I’m homeless.”

 

“The homeless are used to standing in line for food, for a bed – they stand in line to get in the door,” said volunteer Kenneth Cabean, who is very satisfied with the work he does at the kitchen. “See them smile today? This can change a man’s heart.”

“This place represents what we’re about now,” said Beau Heyen, president of Episcopal Community Services, which runs the kitchen. “Not only is the food different, but no more long lines and elementary school trays. Our clients will be served like they are in a restaurant.”

Sources: Upworthy, Kansas City Star