A soup kitchen disguised as a restaurant is making a big difference in Kansas City.
Doesn't this meal look pretty dang tasty?
And how about this one? 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.
"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.