JEFFERSONVILLE — When Community Kitchen served its first meal on Jan. 4, 1989, it served just three people. Over the past three decades, the kitchen estimates that it has served more than 1.5 million free meals to the community, and today, it serves an average of 200 meals a day.
Community Kitchen, located at 1611 Spring St. in Jeffersonville, has grown over the years, but its mission has remained the same — to make sure community members can enjoy a hot meal five days a week. The nonprofit provides free lunch Monday through Friday and on the last Sunday of every month. On Thursday, the kitchen celebrated its 30th anniversary with an open house.
The kitchen was originally located in the former Jeffersonville Jaycees building at 231 Pearl St. before moving to its current location in 2011. The kitchen is operated by volunteers, and it runs on donations from organizations such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Gordon Food Service and Dare to Care, along with many individuals, churches, businesses and nonprofits.
As of October, the kitchen has served 37,568 meals in 2019; it served 45,686 meals in 2018. Stan Moore, president of Community Kitchen's Board of Directors, said the kitchen is open to all, and no questions are asked. The kitchen serves a wide variety of patrons, including those who struggle with homelessness and unemployment, and people with low or fixed incomes.
"We don't ask — whoever wants to come through is welcome to come through," Moore said. "We get a little bit of everybody. Unfortunately, in the summer, we get a lot more gets than we normally would. Throughout the week, we get a lot of repeats — we get a lot of people you can tell are between jobs or just need a meal."
The kitchen is open year-round, including holidays, so people can come to the nonprofit for their Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. Moore said if the kitchen receives enough funding and volunteer support, the board would like to expand operations to every Sunday.
Seven or eight volunteers are typically needed to function each day, and the kitchen is always looking for more volunteers, Moore said.
"If you go back and spend a day with our volunteers, you can tell this is their passion," he said. "They truly work for the joy and the spirit of serving the community, and for the people on the other side receiving the food, they're very appreciative."
There have been a number of capital improvements at the kitchen over the past year. With funding from Jeffersonville Township Trustee Dale Popp, the kitchen purchased a commercial dishwasher, which saved the nonprofit about $5,000 a year on Styrofoam products. Anonymous donations have helped Community Kitchen install a restroom for the patrons, along with two sinks where patrons can wash their hands before their meal and motorized roll-up doors at the kitchen's serving line.
Kevin Burke, vice president of the Board of Directors, said the large amount of meals served at the kitchen shows a great need in the community for the service. He finds it heartwarming to see support of the nonprofit's mission from individuals, businesses and organizations.
"There are 200 meals a day on average, and that's 52 weeks a year, five days a week," he said. "So in our 30th year — and I'm not really good at math — if that was an average that goes back 30 years, we've served more than 1.5 million meals to the needy, to the folks that need a hot meal, and I think that says a lot for not only the volunteers, but our businesses that support us..."
In addition to serving food, the kitchen offers other resources to its patrons. A community member often gives out clothing during the meals, and the kitchen is working with Clark Memorial Health to start a health screening with local nursing students, Moore said.
Susi Ems has been volunteering at Community Kitchen for about a decade, and she serves as the kitchen's crew leader. It's something she can do to help; she can't cure cancer, she said, but she can provide people with a hot meal.
"You don't have to prove you're poor, you don't have to live on the street or live outside...you can come in and eat any time you want," Ems said.
Community Kitchen board member Ron Ellis, who also serves on the Jeffersonville City Council, grew up just down the street from the Community Kitchen's current facility.
"I like the opportunity to give something back as a member of this community," he said. "I feel I have the opportunity, and it's just something that God's called me to do — to serve and to give."
Ellis often greets patrons at the door during the meals, and he has seen people waiting in the cold and the rain for the kitchen to open. Many people who eat at Community Kitchen might not have another meal that day, he said.
He enjoys the opportunity to interact with the patrons of Community Kitchen.
"I've stood over there and watched the people come in — I shake their hands, I hug the people and let them know, I'm just like them," Ellis said. "I'm just one of them. The interactions mean a whole lot."