By Kevin Collison, CityScene KC
Eight years after opening in new space at Eighth and The Paseo, NourishKC celebrated serving its millionth meal to the homeless people of Downtown.
Mayor Sly James recognized their charitable work at an event last week, but also used the occasion to call out the broader issue of homelessness and growing economic disparity in the United States.
“I don’t want to celebrate the one millionth meal, there’s nothing to celebrate about serving a million meals to people who need food,” he said. “I want to celebrate you’re doing it.
“I think a better milestone will be when you serve your last meal. We’ve become too calloused in this country to those who are without. Those who are without are multiplying faster than those who have.”
The kitchen and dining room are on the lower level of the Downtown Community Services Center owned and operated by the Downtown Council. The upstairs is occupied by ReStart, an organization that provides housing services, healthcare and counseling to homeless people.
Sean O’Byrne, vice president of the Downtown Council, said providing social services is part of the broader mission of the organization of Downtown property owners. The organization raised $1.3 million in 2008 to open the center.
“You can’t talk about economic development or a resurgence of Downtown until you address the issue of homelessness in a dignified manner,” O’Byrne said. “Our goal is, when you come for a meal you can come upstairs and talk to somebody about housing, see a doctor or talk to a counselor.”
NourishKC traces its roots to 1983 when it opened as a soup kitchen operated by what was then Episcopal Community Services in the basement of Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral at 415 W. 13th St. The operation relocated to 750 Paseo Blvd. in 2010. Last year, Episcopal Family Services was renamed NourishKC.
The NourishKC facility is designed to resemble a comfortable bistro rather than an institutional soup kitchen. It also offers culinary training to help people find lasting jobs.
“Our mission is to build a food secure region,” said spokeswoman Victoria Cherrie.
Meals are served Mondays through Fridays from 7 to 9 a.m., and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. An average of 150,000 people are served each month. And, the program is working to expand its funding base.
“In the past, we were largely funded by foundation grants,” Cherrie said. “We’re trying to build a platform of donors.”
Before his formal remarks, James enjoyed a tour of the NourishKC kitchen where he joked with several of the staff and praised their work.
“A lot of people don’t get the need for this,” he said “I’m glad you get it. You’re making sure people have food. People in need do strange things, sometimes bad things. To the extent you show they’re cared for…God bless you, that’s cool stuff.”
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