Juju may not know where he’s going to sleep at night, but rest assured he knows where his next meal will come from.
He walks to St. Vincent de Paul Louisville’s Open Hand Kitchen every day to eat.
“I feel like once I come here I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to get my next meal. I don’t have to worry about feeling unsafe on this campus. It’s sacred ground here,” Juju said.
That “sacred ground” feeling Juju gets may be because the Open Hand Kitchen started serving out of St. Paul Catholic Church. In October 1983, it was gifted to SVDP and the building was converted into a community kitchen.
Fast forward four decades later, on the Open Hand Kitchen’s 40-year anniversary, and it’s still a staple to clients on campus and those in the Shelby Park and Smoketown neighborhoods.
Debbie has walked to the Open Hand Kitchen from her nearby apartment for the last decade. When asked where she would go if SVDP wasn’t around, Debbie said, “I wouldn’t know. This is the only place I know to go. It helps out a lot.”
The Open Hand Kitchen provides two hot meals a day every day of the year to all who come through its doors. If you’re hungry, we’ll feed you, no questions asked.
“It helps me out tremendously, more than you can imagine,” Juju added. “There’s nothing but love here. I feel this is a place I genuinely feel love without any ulterior motives. I feel they’re genuinely helping the community and anyone in need.”
Over the last year, we experienced a 44% increase in those we serve averaging almost 10,000 meals per month.
In comparison to the rest of Jefferson County, Shelby Park households receive four times more SNAP benefits (59%) and three times more are below the federal poverty line (52%).
“This is a different side of Louisville I hadn’t seen before,” said Hymella Ashby, an Open Hand Kitchen cook.
It’s a side of Louisville that not everyone wants to see, whether it’s seniors, teenagers, toddlers, or Veterans in need to eat.
Former Marine James Brown was stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is a part of our Veterans Transitional Housing Program in the basement of Ozanam Inn Men’s Emergency Shelter.
“St. Vincent de Paul is very generous in feeding people,” Brown said. “I come all the time for lunch and dinner.”
Open Hand Kitchen History
The genesis of that generosity was in October 1983, when the Open Hand Kitchen had lines of more than 100 people waiting to be let in for lunch and dinner. SVDP provided 12,000 free meals in its first month of service.
Within the first decade, the Open Hand Kitchen became the largest agency in Kentucky to feed those in need, with more than 25,000 meals being served each month. Early on, volunteers from churches throughout Louisville served meals Monday through Friday.
The basement initially housed the kitchen, dining area, and offices. In September 1995, renovation work began on St. Paul Catholic Church so that the Open Hand Kitchen could move to the main body of the church for all kitchen functions.
Open Hand Kitchen Process
At the Open Hand Kitchen, the kitchen staff prepares lunch and dinner for roughly 150 to 200 people each meal.
They begin cooking at 9 a.m. for lunch at 12 p.m., and again at 2 p.m. so that
dinner is ready at 5 p.m.
“I don’t cook any differently when I’m at home. I can cook for large groups because my family’s so large,” Ashby said. “I like feeding our guests and making sure they get two good meals a day.”
The kitchen staff wants to make sure its guests are eating a quality meal.
“I try to cook it like it’s a home-cooked meal, like a Sunday dinner. That’s what my mom taught me. I just want to make a good meal,” said Kevin Hyatt, the Open Hand Kitchen Manager. “I enjoy giving back … and putting a smile on somebody’s face. I like to cook.”
Each meal is nutritious and typically consists of a meat, vegetable, starch, and salad to hit on the main food groups.
The Open Hand Kitchen is primarily run on donations. As you can imagine, they go through a lot of food every month (see graph below).
With 62 monthly meals to prepare for, the Open Hand Kitchen has 62 volunteer teams totaling 400 people. These groups range from schools, businesses, SVDP conferences, churches, neighborhood friends, nuns, and individuals. Several teams have served together for decades.
“St. Vincent de Paul is a very good organization who helps people in need and those who are willing to help themselves,” said Dennis Cowhig, who has been serving at the Open Hand Kitchen for 15 years. “If I can help someone do better in their life, then put me down for that.”
“When I retired, I just wanted something to do to help people out,” added Jack Sullivan, who also volunteers. “I know … this is something to get them through bad times and hopefully onto a better life.”
If you would like to volunteer or donate to the Open Hand Kitchen, visit www.svdplou.org/get-involved/.