Miriam’s Kitchen

August 10th, 20099:27 pm @

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Miriam’s Kitchen

In the basement of a church in an upscale neighborhood in Washington DC, incredible things are happening. When I first entered the room, it was bustling with activity, but I was struck by the welcoming and cozy feeling in the space. The walls are brightly decorated with art and poetry, and the guests sit at tables decorated with fresh flowers, eating, discussing, writing and making art. Ashley, the Volunteer and Development Coordinator and development assistant, greeted me with an infectious smile I could not help reflecting, and I noticed as we moved through the dining room on my tour, that many of the volunteers and guests were smiling too. Miriam’s Kitchen is a calm and happy space.

This may not seem unique or surprising, until you learn that most of the guests at Miriam’s Kitchen have been homeless for a year or longer, and many suffer from severe mental illness and/or addiction. As Ashley explained, they try to have a “Starbucks” feel to the space; a cozy, colorful and welcoming environment where everyone is treated as equals (and expected to do the same for one another). The result is that Miriam’s Kitchen is a safe and comfortable place; sometimes the only place the guests have been able to relax in years.

At Miriam’s, guests can come for a balanced, homemade breakfast Monday – Friday, lunch on Wednesdays, and will soon be able to eat dinner there during the week as well, but Miriam’s is much more than just a kitchen. Along with the food buffet and coffee bar, there is a table with small donated “door prizes,” clothing, and groups of guest engaging in art and writing projects, group discussions and more. Miriam’s does not ask anything of their guests (not even their names as they come in), but if a guest is so inclined, he or she can join the “After Breakfast Program,” where activities are expanded to include yoga, geography classes, a monthly “spa day” with manicures and facials, and anything else the volunteers connected with the kitchen are interested in offering. Miriam’s additionally offers the guests the option of a variety of more traditional services, such as a P.O. Box, voicemail services, law help, connection to public assistance, psychiatric evaluation and care one day a week by a licensed practitioner, and professional case management services.

The ultimate goal that Miriam’s Kitchen has for its guests is to move them into permanent housing. However, as Ashley explained to me, working with such a vulnerable population, the steps forward are slow and small, but they celebrate every one; be it coming inside for the first time in years for a meal, the decision to sit down with one of the case managers, or actually finding an apartment. And as they work with each guest through that process, they hope to at least be a comfortable place where everyone feels safe and at home.

If you are interested in learning more about Miriam’s kitchen, you can find them on the web at www.miriamskitchen.org, or call them at (202) 452-8926. Miriam’s is always looking for support by volunteers and through donations!

(Images from Miriam’s Kitchen Flickr Photostream)