A soup kitchen disguised as a restaurant is making a big difference in Kansas City.

Doesn't this meal look pretty dang tasty?

Here we have a roast leg of lamb, gravy with red currant, pilaf, steamed broccoli, Farm to Market Bread Co. bread, and fresh fruit. All photos by Kansas City Community Kitchen, used with permission.


And how about this one? YUM.

Check out this ras el hanout chicken, couscous, green beans, cucumber salad, and fresh fruit. SO MUCH YUM.

You might be surprised to find out that these beautiful dishes didn't come from a fancy restaurant or even a special at-home dinner.

They're just a couple of typical meals from one of the country's most innovative soup kitchens.

The restaurant-style Kansas City Community Kitchen is a completely new way to feed those in need.

Say goodbye to trays, buffets, and waiting in lines to eat at a regular old soup kitchen.

When you step inside the Kansas City Community Kitchen today, a greeter shows you to a table. Volunteer waitstaff takes your order after you've had time to look at the menu and see what the culinary team has been cookin' up. The options are healthier and quite creative, like an episode of Food Network's "Chopped," but with the ingredients available to the kitchen that day.

Diners are encouraged to leave reviews of their service and requests for what they'd like to see on the menu.

Have health, dietary, or religious-observance needs? No sweat. Here's an example of a lunch they just prepared during Lent: spiced swai, broccoli cheese casserole, garlic-Parmesan fries with house ketchup, and simple greens salad with tomato-water vinaigrette.

Delicious.

"We are trying to flip the photo of what a soup kitchen looks like," Mandy Caruso-Yahne, director of community engagement at Episcopal Community Services (ECS), told Upworthy.

I'd say they're off to a good start.

But feeding those in need isn't the only way the kitchen is helping. They're training others too.

The ECS Culinary Cornerstones six-month training program gives classroom and hands-on experience to those interested in the culinary industry but who are dealing with barriers that keep them from doing it the traditional way. Besides, school doesn't work for everyone.

Through the program, students work their way up to cooking in the kitchen and providing suggestions for the menu and dishes they prepare. They develop knowledge and confidence in a variety of ways that help them continue down a path in the food industry once they're finished with the program.

It's an awesome way to bring different parts of the community together in one place.

Mandy emphasized that everyone is welcome at their kitchen: college kids, police officers, doctors, students, volunteers. You don't have to be unable to afford food to get a bite to eat or volunteer your time. And with restaurant-quality meals at no cost, how could you resist?

Getting people of all backgrounds to blend together — even for a few hours each day — is such an important way to learn and build trust within the community.

As one diner named Brian put it, "They’re treating me good, like they don’t know I’m homeless."

And that's exactly the point.

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Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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