ASHLAND A person rushes out into the cold, huddled in a heavy coat, and strides purposefully to a waiting vehicle. He or she sheds the coat and tosses it into an empty passenger seat and starts the vehicle. Time is at a premium; the person has 30 minutes to drive to a nearby restaurant, order food and wolf it down, and then drive back. He or she has only a half hour for lunch, and then it’s back to work.
Another person gathers a thin coat and shambles down the street. Old, ill-fitting shoes scuff the asphalt as the person wanders in the shadows of buildings in hopes of blocking the worst of the chilly wind. There is no immediacy, no purpose other than the attempt to get warm. Empty pockets can buy no food, and often the last meal is a little more than a memory.
The differences between these two people are vast, but the line separating them is very thin. They could have attended the same school, grown up in the same neighborhood and at some point in their lives these two people could have even worked together. Life changes quickly, sometimes creating a dark, unforeseen pathway. And, without help, it is often impossible to find a way back.
Fortunately there are good people and organizations that attempt to stem the rising tide of homelessness and need in the northeastern Kentucky area as well as abroad.
One such organization, The Community Kitchen in Ashland, feeds folks without judgment. The Kitchen serves the need while other organizations deal with the factors leading to that need. These organizations can often come together and perhaps solve the larger problem.
“I am a believer in second chances,” Executive Director Dr. Desmond Barrett said. “And also third chances, and fourth chances. Sometimes we fail the first time we attempt to fix our problems, but we should always be encouraged to try again.”
Barrett said his job, or mission, is to feed people who are hungry. And The Kitchen does just that. In 2019, between January and December, 42,078 meals were served to people in need — including 27,103 male guests and 14,975 female guests. The value of these meals (served to an average 153 guests per day) was $204,437.92. The non-profit is supported mainly by donations, and it requires resources to answer so much need. Barrett calculated the hours logged by volunteers at 2,385 hours.
During the last quarter of 2019, The Kitchen worked with the Boyd County Community Work Program.
“Eighteen individuals came to us to do community service,” Barrett said. “These were individuals who would normally be sent to local jails, but since there is overcrowding in the jails, the program is trying to give people a break.”
Individuals in the program are allowed to perform community service in lieu of time spent in jail, Barrett said. He has had some individuals in the program work at The Kitchen up to 150 days, and some as little as one day.
Barrett described the program as a positive for everyone concerned.
“The judge has allowed them to work for our organization, and they make use of their time and talents while paying off their debt to society as a whole,” Barrett said.
Another organization The Kitchen works with is the Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program.
“Individuals in this program go to school at ACTC, plus they are getting job experience here, and they are giving back to their local community by working with us,” Barrett said.
Barrett stressed that The Kitchen is a needs-based organization, but through partnerships with other programs, it is also giving back to the community as a whole.
“Sometimes organizations which are needs-based can be seen as being part of the problem, and that is unfortunate,” Barrett said. “We are actually working toward a solution, and would like to help other organizations solve problems within the community as well.”
An example of how these types of organizations help one another is when a man known as Josh came through the food line at the kitchen. Workers at The Kitchen noticed he was visibly limping, and when they asked him if he was hurt they discovered his feet were blistered and bruised from wearing rigid dress shoes that were too small for his feet. Workers contacted another organization, The Dressing Room, and were able to find the properly sized shoes for the man.
Another example — this one through the Boyd County Community Work Program — is Julie. Julie was struggling with addiction, a condition that began in her teenage years, and had relapsed after being clean and sober for 72 days. The work program allowed Julie to serve at The Kitchen, where she encountered support, understanding and peace of mind to begin fighting her addiction again. Individuals in this program are given a chance to improve their situation, as Julie has, while being monitored by local law enforcement and held accountable to complete the hours their sentence requires.
Barrett said he sees these programs and the interaction between organizations as a positive thing for the community.
“They are helping others while being helped,” Barrett said. “And this can make the community a better place for all its residents.”
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