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.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

via Pixabay

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