Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Prince Appleberry covers a pan of food at Chattanooga Community Kitchen.

There was a time when Prince Appleberry didn't know from where his next meal would come. Homeless and hungry, the Chattanooga native often found himself in the Chattanooga Community Kitchen's dining room, alongside the many people who benefit from the meals served there each week.

Now, as sous chef at the Community Kitchen, he feeds the hundreds who find themselves bereft of such basic needs — the things so many of us take for granted, like a hot meal.

Appleberry found his way to the Community Kitchen nine years ago when a friend told him about Community Kitchen's Victory in Progress, a program at its Homeless Healthcare Center, an outpatient alcohol- and drug-abuse program.

"Being a part of that is how I got my first job at the Community Kitchen," Appleberry says. "I started in dishwasher maintenance and learned about cooking as I was trained by the staff. Then I was promoted to cook, then kitchen manager, and now I am the sous chef."

Working to feed the homeless puts him in a position to give back, he says.

"Just to help others know how it is to have been homeless and to be able to give back means a lot to me," he adds.

Vanessa Blevins, chief financial officer at the Community Kitchen, says Appleberry is a tremendous asset to the organization's foodservice division.

"His life experiences have given him a level of compassion for others that cannot be taught, and it is clear that he genuinely cares about the people he serves every day," she says. "Prince also relates well to the wide array of volunteers who come to the kitchen to serve meals. His willingness to teach others, and his dedication to changing lives through small acts of kindness, is beautiful to watch as an administrator. I don't have to worry about foodservice because we have an amazing team. They work hard to provide healthy and nutritious meals to those who are seeking refuge at the Community Kitchen."

The Chattanooga Community Kitchen serves three meals a day, seven days a week, holidays included. It started as only a food program in 1982 in partnership with area churches and has expanded to offer housing, healthcare and other support services to the city's homeless, hungry and vulnerable.

"It's hard to take care of your basic needs when you and your family are hungry," Blevins notes. "Your mind cannot focus on anything other than survival. Our goal in providing three meals a day is to restore dignity to our neighbors because we believe no one deserves to starve, and everyone deserves the opportunity to change their circumstances. Being able to depend on a hot meal allows participants to focus on housing, employment and other crucial steps on the journey from survival mode to empowerment."

Their favorite meals? Chicken with mixed vegetables and rice with gravy; pork chops with rice and gravy; turkey salad; and Appleberry's favorite — spaghetti with meat sauce.

Spaghetti Sauce With Ground Beef

1 pound ground beef

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small green bell pepper, diced

1 (28-ounce) can of diced tomatoes

1 (16-ounce) can of tomato sauce

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons dried basil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Cooked pasta

Combine ground beef, onion, garlic and green pepper in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook and stir until meat is browned and vegetables are tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain the grease.

Stir in diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste. Season with oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Simmer sauce for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Serve over pasta.