Volunteer Tina Slaughter stirs green beans at the Kitchen of Hope in Kingsport recently. Photo by David Grace.
Although Geraldine Swagerty is facing a problem she is all too familiar with, her faith remains strong.
Swagerty, who is the pastor at Full Gospel Mission Church, says 12 years ago she felt led by the Lord to “feed the people.”
With just $169 — which she and her husband, who was gravely ill at the time, had saved — Swagerty opened the Kitchen of Hope in the basement of her church on East Sevier Avenue.
“I’ve been a couple of times to finance companies and borrowed some money to keep it going, and the Lord has always provided something to help out, but it’s not ever been easy,” Swagerty said.
The Kitchen of Hope is open from 3:30 pm. until 5 p.m. six days a week. Sunday is the only day it’s closed.
When the Kitchen of Hope first opened, Swagerty said she was doing everything on her own — buying the food and cooking and serving the meals.
But, little by little, word got out about what Swagerty was trying to do, and people came forward to help.
Today, Swagerty has about six to 12 volunteers who assist in the day-to-day operations of the Kitchen of Hope, which feeds as many as 125 people daily.
“Hunger is a big problem in Kingsport. We see older people. We see children. They don’t have anything. They need us,” Swagerty said.
But the Kitchen of Hope, which depends solely on donations, is currently facing some serious financial hardships and losing volunteers.
Swagerty says sometimes she wonders if she will be forced to close the doors.
However, this isn’t the first time the kitchen has been in this position. It has previously been hurt by theft, equipment failures, reduced donations and Swagerty’s own health problems.
So, Swagerty says, she remains optimistic that the Kitchen of Hope can once again prevail.
“If people weren’t so generous, I couldn’t do this,” she said, adding that for 12 years she has depended on the kindness of Kingsport’s own to keep the Kitchen of Hope going.
“I don’t take credit for what has been done. If Kingsport’s volunteers hadn’t come together to help, we sure couldn’t have done this,” she said.
Like everyone else, Swagerty searches for sales at Kingsport grocery stores and buys in bulk. She said she welcomes donations of food, especially this time of year as folks are harvesting their gardens and canning their produce.
“We take anything edible,” she said, laughing. “We’re not picky. We appreciate anything they might have extra of and will share with us.”
For Swagerty, closing the Kitchen of Hope is not an option she wants to consider.
“The Lord will provide. I’m going to continue to try to stay open as long as I can,” she said.
To find out how you can help, visit the Kitchen of Hope at 740 E. Sevier Ave., or mail contributions to Kitchen of Hope, c/o Full Gospel Mission, 740 E. Sevier Ave., Kingsport, TN 37660.