October 28th, 2008
12:20 PM ET

Homeless in an economic storm

Miriam's Kitchen has been providing meals to the homeless for 25 years.

Miriam's Kitchen has been providing meals to the homeless for 25 years.

Jill Dougherty | Bio
U.S. Affairs Correspondent

It’s 6:30 a.m., still dark outside, as the men, along with a few women, line up outside of Western Presbyterian Church in the affluent Washington, D.C. neighborhood of Foggy Bottom. They are homeless, many carrying plastic bags with their belongings. As the doors to the church basement open, they file in, the smell of breakfast wafting up to the street.

On the menu this morning: scrambled eggs, salad, biscuits and gravy, grits and a fruit smoothie made from fresh apples, bananas, strawberries and honey. “Good morning,” one of the young volunteers behind the counter near the kitchen says. “Would you like some grits?” The customers point to what they want, then move to tables where they sit down to enjoy it.

Miriam’s Kitchen has been providing meals and other services to the homeless for 25 years. It’s been at its current location since 1994. Their client list is growing; this past September, its director says, 20% more people came for breakfast than during the same month last year. In 2007 the Kitchen served almost 53,000 meals.

Randall Cook, 47, is one of them. He’s in town from Dayton, Ohio. “It took me like six months to find a restaurant job in Dayton,” he tells me, “so I says, this economy go belly up, recession and all that. Let me go back to D.C. because D.C. has always provided plenty of opportunity for myself.”

I sit down with Harry Powell. He’s 60 years old and he’s carrying a cane. He’s been homeless for three months, ever since he got out of prison for selling drugs. The meal, he tells me, is “so important to me because of the fact, ain't nowhere else to eat. No money in your pocket. No work nowhere.”

Steve Badt, a trained chef who is director of kitchen operations and volunteer operations, says he can prepare a meal like this for approximately $1.50 per person. Just last year the cost was about a dollar. He doesn’t use canned food and relies on donations from supermarkets and farmer’s markets. “We're really pushing our donors harder,” he says. “I'm being a little more blunt, a little more aggressive, saying hey, I need vegetables, I need fruit, I need meat, I need – you know, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise. Anything helps to keep our food costs down.”

Miriam’s Kitchen’s executive director, Scott Schenkelberg, tells me he’s having a harder time as commodity prices soar. “Basics such as flour, milk, eggs, butter have increased as much as 50% over the past few years,” he says, “so we're even more reliant on food donations and scrimping even more on our regular food budget to be able to make ends meet.”

Schenkelberg also is worried about cash donations. This is the time of year many people make charitable contributions but he knows some of them are looking at dwindling home values, disappearing 401K’s and other hits from the economic crisis. Will they continue to support the Kitchen?

There’s no lack of volunteers, however. More than a thousand of them plus a waiting list. Caroline Weaver, a yoga teacher and a writer, has been volunteering for two years. “There are a lot of programs that help individuals who are homeless but this one in particular,” she says, “there's a lot of love, there's a lot of care, there's a lot of thought that goes into it.”

Filed under: Economy • Jill Dougherty
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Mary V., Salt Lake City, UT

    Homelessness in America has increased and will now so many are losing their jobs.

    We all need to do our part to support our local food banks and homeless shelters.

    October 28, 2008 at 7:30 pm |
  2. Annie Kate

    I hope this place can stay open and will continue to get the donations it needs. It sounds as if they are doing a wonderful job of providing meals to the homeless and poor. Its nice to know there are people still willing to help others less fortunate and not only help the people but give them a good nutritious breakfast that sounds a lot better than what a lot of us eat in the mornings.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    October 28, 2008 at 6:09 pm |
  3. Barend Bendorf

    "My Street Bailout"
    Auction on Ebay challenges Wall Street to a bailout.... No offers!
    Kind Regards,
    Barend Bendorf

    October 28, 2008 at 5:42 pm |
  4. JC- Los Angeles

    Our nation has fallen to the point where being homeless and broke sounds an awful lot better than being a homeowner with debts.

    October 28, 2008 at 4:41 pm |
  5. Lynn Fegan

    I would like to donate what I can to kitchens such as described here, how do I find them?

    October 28, 2008 at 4:29 pm |
  6. Mike

    I wonder how many of these people are actually homeless. I am all for soup kitchens a places such as this, but the number of people showing up doesn't reflect upon dire need or overall economic conditions. I am not being cold hearted, but factual. I have known people to go get their free meal. Local restaurants and schools with left overs should be allowed to donate them to kitchens for people. There's alot of food that goes to waste.

    October 28, 2008 at 4:15 pm |
  7. JDC

    The "poor" have never had it so good...dozens of churches, agencies providing for them.

    October 28, 2008 at 4:08 pm |
  8. earle,provincetown

    Bravo for the soup kitchen's,and the volunteers! There's this old saying that was preached to me as a child throughout my life,"give a man a fish,you feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish ,you feed him for life". That takes me to the government bailout of the banks,insurance companies,brokerage firms,auto industry,and whatever else. My personal opinion (gut feeling) tells me this was the biggest ripp-off of the American people (taxpayers) since the "Boston Tea Party",if that makes any sense? I say we should have taken the Trillion dollars, and put it into New- WPA Program's, similar to those initiated during the great depression by FDR, and build out our infrastructure(trains/subways,ports/shipping,etc.)/upgrade the electrical transmission lines/stations etc.,and secure the borders) that would gainfully employ millions of american,and bring dignity back home to the greatest country in the world! Oh,did I forget to mention that this will take the second Trillion dollars outlays, to correct the first travesty. I apologize for my cynicism?

    October 28, 2008 at 3:29 pm |
  9. sharon from Indy

    In the Indianapolis metro area we have a similar "kitchen" called Second Helpings. It not only feeds the homeless but also low-income preschools, senior citizens and afterschool programs.

    October 28, 2008 at 3:10 pm |
  10. Julie San Diego, CA

    I noticed that today you have two articles on your blog about ministries that are feeding the homeless and helping people stay in their homes. Thanks for highlighting what's real news to the real world.

    I have to pose the question: why is it that in both cases, CHURCHES are taking the initiative and fixing the societal problems that GOVERNMENT won't? Miriam's Kitchen operates out of a church and the Save Your Home information sessions are held at churches.

    We just paid the penance for Wall Street's sins to the tune of $700 billion dollars. George Bush calls himself a Christian, but if he was truly a Christian, a compassionate and conservative government would be providing the $700 billion dollars to help struggling families and hard-working people who are down on their luck.

    And while AC360 generally does an excellent job, myself and most others find it pretty hard to accept the "blame" for this "financial crisis" (TOP TEN: "YOU") when the blame is delivered from a guy wearing a Rolex. Time to get real again, Anderson.

    October 28, 2008 at 3:00 pm |
  11. Kia

    Ik now exactly how it feels to be displaced in this crazy economy. My family experienced 2 foreclosures from properties we were renting. Both times, the landlords failed to mention it too us. We were left scrambling with less than 30 days to find affordabe housing. Eventually getting evicted. Georgia really needs to toughen upon the landlord laws down here.

    October 28, 2008 at 2:21 pm |
  12. Cindy

    It's great to see places such as Miriam's Kitchen really stepping up to the plate and helping the less fortunate. They do a great service and should be commended. I hope that they get the donations that they need to stay afloat to help everyone.


    October 28, 2008 at 12:54 pm |