Photo by Ned Jilton II.
KINGSPORT — For 15 years, the Kitchen of Hope has provided free hot meals to folks in need in the Kingsport area.
Later this month, the operation will hold a Sunday afternoon open house in the basement of the Full Gospel Mission Church, 740 E. Sevier Ave. That is the only day of the week the kitchen doesn't offer free meals out of the basement fellowship hall from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
"This year, we are averaging about 3,000 people a month that come," said Nellie Valk-Roberts, who's been a volunteer with the operation for 11 years and helps coordinate the operation.
Valk-Roberts said the average monthly attendance has grown from 1,750 in 2005 to 2,700 a month now, while daily attendance in 2005 was around 50 to 75 compared to the current levels of 150 to 175 and sometimes greater.
Roberts said kitchen officials wanted to have the July 20 open house to let the community know its support is appreciated, as well as give folks who have no idea how the charity operates a look at the operation.
Then they thought about 2014 being the 15th anniversary of the Rev. Geraldine Swagerty, pastor of Full Gospel, starting what became the Kitchen of Hope by bringing in small groups of people who needed to eat and feeding them.
The operation targets the homeless but has no requirement to come eat an evening meal.
"The community and businesses supported us so well, we just wanted to say thank you," Valk-Roberts said of the drop-in reception, which will feature light refreshments and be held from 2 to 4 p.m. "For 15 years, they've been serving food."
On top of that, Evergreen of Kingsport is donating $1,000 to the kitchen in honor of master gardeners who teach classes for the gardening retailer.
Evergreen owner Henere Valk, Valk-Roberts' brother, said the presentation of the $1,000 was happenstance and not related to the open house or anniversary, although he said some area gardeners have a very direct connection with the kitchen.
"We are just doing a contribution for the Kitchen of Hope" instead of giving the instructors gift cards, Valk said.
Evergreen held free gardening seminars/workshops this spring with the aid of master gardeners Earl Hockin, Phil Ramey, Ben Hunter, Hugh Conlon, Jamie Hyatt, Karen Gibson, Jane Hall, Jodi Horne and Jonathon Smith.
Valk said that he and Hockin are among local gardeners who donate fresh produce to the kitchen from their gardens.
"The focus is on the Kitchen of Hope being able to continue their program because they have struggled for the past two years," Valk said.
A fundraising effort late last year gained more than $7,000, paying for plumbing work that allowed the kitchen to go back in operation in early January.
Aside from fresh garden produce in season, Valk-Roberts said, Second Harvest Food Bank provides food year-round and churches and other groups often will send food from food drives during the holiday season in November and December.
Valk-Roberts said that the 3,000 or so people served a month are mostly all the same people although because of circumstances such as Social Security check deposits, many tend to eat evening meals there more in the later half of the month.
During the past five years, she said the kitchen has served an average of 25,000 people a year. However, that means more than 25,000 plates of food because seconds are served unless the program is running short on food that d a y.
Valk-Roberts said on an average day this year, about 125 people eat an evening meal at the kitchen, although she said it had 190 one recent day, 166 on June 27 and almost 150 on June 29.
The operation had to close for about 2 months in the fall because of the plumbing issues, but community fundraising efforts, including a pancake breakfast at Applebee's with sports celebrity guest chefs, got the operation back in its groove, with the Salvation Army temporarily filling in as the meal provider.
The kitchen is not a United Way agency but does get food from Second Harvest and receives donations and support from individuals and churches in the community.
Full Gospel provides the basement, and rotating groups of volunteers prepare and serve the meals each day.
Church groups, from entire congregations or Sunday schools, are among the volunteers, as are groups of friends and family members.
She said one restaurant will fill in about every other month as needed, bringing food and sending employees.
In addition, some businesses provide support such as Steve Huff Plumbing giving deals on repair work, Pal's providing all the operation's ice needs and Chef's Pizzeria donates pizzas from time to time.
Most months, Valk-Roberts said the arrangement means 24 or 25 slots, although she said some groups come only every other month, so about 30 groups total help with the operation.
However, right now the kitchen needs groups to serve on the first and fourth Thursdays of every month and on the fifth Wednesdays .
Valk-Roberts said that donations of time, money and items are welcome, but she said the kitchen cannot accept homecanned items, those that are out-of-date or items already opened.
In addition, she said that donated kitchen equipment must be able to fit into the limited confines of the church basement. The operation has one commercial oven, but much of the equipment is of the residential type and worn from more than a decade of use.
For information about donations or volunteering to take a day of food preparation and serving, call Valk-Roberts at (423) 914-9982 or email her at email@example.com .