So now, when many people think of The Kitchen, the non-profit organization she founded, they probably remember the soup kitchen feeding the homeless population on Commercial Street and the congregate housing The Kitchen offered at the Missouri Hotel.
But the times are changing.
At their open house on Wednesday, The Kitchen welcomed the public to its new headquarters at 730 North Glenstone Avenue.
The administrative part of the headquarters was actually moved to the current location in November 2020. Still, the pandemic prevented the general public from getting a chance to see the new digs, which consist of two major structures on what is known as the O’Reilly Family Campus.
The Kitchen’s Emergency Shelter includes 13 apartments to provide emergency shelter for families until permanent housing can be found. At the same time, the Sam F. and June S. Hamra Family Support Services building is home to The Kitchen’s Community Housing and Home at Last programs, housing operations office, donation center, and administrative offices.
“While we were very grateful for our buildings and time spent on Commercial Street but those buildings were ancient and costly to get them in the condition they needed to be,” explained The Kitchen CEO, Meleah Spencer. “So we decided for our future we needed to find a different place with buildings that would last and be more sustainable. Thank goodness for the O’Reilly family and Mr. and Mrs. Hamra to help us finally have buildings that represent our values of dignity, respect, quality, service, and compassion that we’ve been able to give back to our participants in a way we’ve never been able to before.”
Sam and June Hamra were at the open house, as was Charlie O’Reilly representing the O’Reilly family.
“I think it’s all God’s work, I really do,” Sam Hamra said. “I feel strongly about this. I think he took the O’Reilly and Hamra families and said, ‘These are people in need. Do them some good!’ And we’re happy to do it because we’ve been blessed.”
“My grandfather and father got our family started off the right way by saying if we’re successful, then we need to give back to the community,” Charlie O’Reilly added. “The Kitchen has done a great job going back to Sister Loraine and the soup kitchen and fast-forwarding now years later to where the mission of The Kitchen has really shifted.”
That mission has changed from an emphasis on providing food to providing housing and services.
“If we are going to end homelessness, we must have more affordable housing,” Spencer pointed out. “One report that I saw said that about 14,000 units are still needed in our area.”
The Kitchen now has five programs that it offers:
— Affordable Housing Developments that provide 222 units of affordable housing to the Springfield community with five housing properties that provide apartments, townhouses, and duplexes, including the Beacon Village and the still-under-construction Maplewood Villas.
–Community Housing program that provides housing assistance and case management for families, individuals, youth, and seniors experiencing homelessness.
— The Emergency Shelter that was previously mentioned.
— Home at Last program provides housing assistance and case management for Veterans and their families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
–Rare Breed Youth Services provides free and confidential services for at-risk and homeless youth ages 13-24.
Wednesday’s open house also included portraits of local homeless people done by Pam Atkinson Vowell, who went out on the streets to meet her subjects.
“There’s a lot of sadness in their stories and a lot of resilience too,” Vowell said. “These are strong folks who can find their own way but need our help.”
Pam admitted the experience changed her perspective on homelessness and made her realize it could happen to anybody.
“In several instances, the story I heard was, ‘We’re doing good, we’re doing good, just a paycheck away. Then all of a sudden, we’re on the street!’ That really struck me. They’re just like us, except they ran into that problem.”
“If someone is paying over 30 percent of their take-home pay on just their rent, then they are at risk of being homeless,” Spencer added.
But as the homeless population continues to grow, so do the efforts to provide hope.
“We do feel overwhelmed with the need,” Spencer said, her voice cracking. “But we also feel overwhelmed with the love and care from this community. And this building would not be here without that overwhelming care in our community.”
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