published Thursday, December 26th, 2013

Hunger on holiday: Chattanooga Community Kitchen $200,000 short of goal

Patrons wait in line for donated Christmas gifts, toiletries and gloves, at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen on Christmas Day in Chattanooga.
Patrons wait in line for donated Christmas gifts, toiletries and gloves, at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen on Christmas Day in Chattanooga.
Photo by Maura Friedman.
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    Lisa Dreer helps serve Christmas lunch at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen on Christmas Day in Chattanooga. Organizers of Fast Day, a fundraising campaign for the kitchen, say they have not reached their donation goal to cover operating expenses.
    Photo by Maura Friedman.
    enlarge photo

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    A child identified as Christian, 3, looks into a box of toys given to him by the Chattanooga Community Kitchen at the center on Christmas Day in Chattanooga.
    Photo by Maura Friedman.
    enlarge photo

How to give

Donations may be sent to the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, Post Office Box 11203, Chattanooga, TN 37401.

Checks and money orders can be made payable to the Chattanooga Community Kitchen or to Chattanooga Church Ministries.

For more information go to www.homelesschattanooga.org or call 423-756-4222.

A college professor with a doctorate nearly drank and drugged himself to death after his mother died.

He lost his job, distanced himself from family and friends and eventually became homeless, recalled Vanessa Blevins, the Chattanooga Community Kitchen's director of finance.

The staff at the Community Kitchen helped him get back on his feet, she said.

Seven years later, the man again is teaching in Washington state and keeps in touch with Blevins.

"We are putting together and rebuilding lives," Blevins said. "But without [financial]support we don't have the resources available."

With only weeks before the end of its Fast Day fundraising campaign, the Community Kitchen is nearly $200,000 short of its goal, said executive director Charlie Hughes.

The campaign, the major fundraising event for the kitchen, ends Jan. 15. But most people give by Dec. 31 to get an end of the year tax break, said Hughes.

The goal is to raise $700,000. The money will be used for operating expenses. It allows the Community Kitchen to offer next year the same services that it did this year.

That included providing 195,000 meals and treating more than 4,000 people at the homeless health care center, said Hughes.

The Community Kitchen also provides homeless people with free laundry service, warm showers and clothes.

"We're trying to show compassion and love, but without support we don't have the resources available," Blevins said.

She and other Community Kitchen officials are asking people to fast, to skip at least one meal, and donate the cost for that meal to the kitchen.

Kitchen officials said that's how they've raised funds in the past, and they're confident they will do it again.

"We just want to remind people that we are struggling just like everybody else," said Hughes.

The money helps provide matching funds needed to receive city and federal grants. It also helps to fund the kitchen's work programs.

About half of the staff at the kitchen are people who were homeless or are homeless, said Blevins. Giving them employment allows clients to build self-esteem as well as job skills, she said. And it's so much easier for a person to get a job when he or she has a job, she said.

The funds also help pay the Community Kitchen's utility expenses that can run $175,000 a year, she said. And it provides a reserve so that repairs can be made as needed, she said.

Blevins said she is grateful that she had an opportunity to assist the man who was a college professor and she wants to continue building relationships with other people who are in need.

"We have people who struggle with addiction, mental illness. They get on the path and they fail, but we're here to hold their hand as they get back up again," she said. "We believe showing compassion is very important."

Hughes said meeting the $700,000 goal is significant in that it determines what services the kitchen is able to provide.

No donation is too small. And the average donation is less than $100, he said.

"We will need $700,000 to operate as we do now," he said. "Pray about it. Do you feel the needs of the homeless? If so, please help."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com.

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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