Scott Schenkelberg and his team work to find permanent solutions to chronic homelessness.
By Kinne Chapin
When you think of the streets of Washington, you might think of the Smithsonian, or the monuments, shopping in Georgetown, or visiting Eastern Market. But these same streets that hold American history are also home to 6,500 homeless men and women. Of those 6,500 people, 2,000 are chronically homeless — meaning that they have been homeless for over a year, or sometimes experience multiple periods of homelessness over the course of several years. Many of these individuals also struggle with physical ailments, mental illness or substance abuse. Few voices advocate for them and treat them with dignity. Miriam’s Kitchen is among the few.
Miriam’s Kitchen has been working for almost 30 years to help meet the daily needs of Washington’s homeless. They use fresh and healthy foods to serve lunch and dinner daily. Providing high-quality and comforting food does more than just feed the hungry – it demonstrates to Miriam’s Kitchen guests that they are respected and valued. What’s served on a given night? Executive Director Scott Schenkelberg told us that on a recent night, the kitchen served roasted lamb pita, creamy oregano grits, crisp garden salad, fresh fruit salad and homemade pecan pie. For that meal, Schenkelberg explained:
“The lamb was purchased with donated gift cards from our local Costco. That same Costco donates more than 1,000 pounds of quality food to our kitchen each week. The salad greens and fruit were donated by Sunnyside Farm and Orchard, a purveyor at the FRESHFARM Foggy Bottom Farmers Market. Sunnyside and other FRESHFARM farmers donate more than 100 pounds of local produce to us each week. The heirloom cucumbers in our salad were donated by the GroW garden, a neighborhood garden planted by George Washington University students and home to our guests’ very own garden plot. More than 20 percent of our produce comes from community gardens just like the GroW garden. And the pecan pie was made from scratch in our kitchen by our volunteer pastry chefs. The pecans were donated by Georgetown Cupcake and are a tasty way for us to get a lot of nutrition onto our guests’ plates.”
As this description demonstrates, Schenkelberg and the Washington community are working together to feed the city’s homeless at a low cost – less than one dollar per person. But Miriam’s Kitchen does not only meet the short-term needs of the district’s homeless, it also seeks to find a permanent solution to chronic homelessness. Toward that end, Miriam’s Kitchen has a case management program that collaborates with homeless individuals seeking everything from clothing to mental heath services, legal advice and housing. Through Miriam’s Studio, the organization also provides art therapy, yoga workshops and creative writing workshops to their guests.
Through these combined services, the team of volunteers and staff at Miriam’s Kitchen are able to provide services to over 4,000 individuals each year. But Miriam’s Kitchen isn’t just dedicated to providing services or meeting needs. It strives to find permanent solutions to homelessness, and improve the life of each of its guests.
Quick Q&A with Executive Director Scott Schenkelberg
Washington Life: What is your mission?
Scott Schenkelberg: Miriam’s Kitchen works to end chronic homelessness in Washington, D.C. We advocate for permanent supportive housing as a long-term solution, while meeting short-term needs by providing healthy meals and high-quality social services to more than 4,000 homeless individuals each year.
WL: How were you founded?
SS: Miriam’s Kitchen was founded in 1983 by a collaboration of The George Washington University Hillel Student Association, Western Presbyterian Church and United Church in response to an urgent need for services for the homeless in downtown Washington. Now in our 29th year, we have helped thousands of homeless men and women attain a better quality of life and greater self-sufficiency by providing them with free, high-quality meals and support services.
WL: How can D.C. locals get involved?
SS: We need your help to end chronic homelessness in D.C. You can help by donating to Miriam’s Kitchen and supporting high-quality, transformative work that is making a real difference in the lives of chronically homeless individuals. And by joining us in advocating for permanent supportive housing, you’re helping to send a message to policymakers that ending chronic homelessness in D.C. is important. We can’t end chronic homelessness in D.C. without you. Individuals and groups can also volunteer to help serve and prepare meals. For more information, please visit our volunteer page.
WL: What sets you apart from other D.C. nonprofits?
SS: In a word, it’s “hospitality,” treating guests, volunteers, donors and staff with the same care as you would someone in your own home. We always strive to answer the question “How can we serve people better?”
WL: Finish this sentence: “I want D.C. citizens to know that…”
SS: If people have heard of Miriam’s Kitchen, they probably think of us as a “soup kitchen.” That term neither captures the quality nor breadth of services we provide homeless men and women. Our vision is to end chronic homelessness in Washington, D.C. We do so by advocating for more housing and providing the resources for people to live healthy, dignified lives while on the streets or in shelters. This includes nutritious homemade meals prepared by professionally trained and more than 2,000 volunteers annually.