Downtown Homeless Agencies Team to Serve Meals Despite Flooding and Virus Woes

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Carol Whitehead (left) and Arai Bigge of NourishKC distribute meals at the temporary take-out operation at Morning Glory Ministries.

By Kevin Collison

First, a broken water pipe in early February forced NourishKC out of its dining room where it served lunch for up to 425 homeless and poor people daily.

The agency found temporary refuge with Morning Glory Ministries, which provides breakfast to about 150 homeless each morning at the community center of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at 112 Broadway.

Then came the Covid-19 endemic.

This week, both nonprofits learned they could no longer seat their guests indoors at tables because of public health restrictions. They’ve had to improvise and open a take-out window on Broadway.

It’s been quite a tumultuous month for two of downtown’s mainstays for helping the homeless, but they’ve continued their work without skipping a meal in a community-minded spirit of collaboration.

“It’s been a terrific partnership,” said John Krause, director of Morning Glory. “Our guests appreciate us stepping up and continuing to provide the services that made their lives so much better.”

Charles Well, the NourishKC chef, has had to improvise take-out meals at the Morning Glory café.

The team effort  began about a month ago when a water pipe broke on the floor above the NourishKC kitchen and dining room in the community center it occupies at 750 Paseo Boulevard.

The building at 750 Paseo Blvd. is owned and operated by the Downtown Council as part of its commitment to providing social services to the homeless population. The flood damage ruined the NourishKC dining area and part of the kitchen.

“It’s been a real hardship,” said Sean O’Byrne, Council vice president. “We serve a lot of families and working poor and it’s been tough.”

For Gar Demo, chairman of Nourish KC, the abrupt transition has forced his agency to adapt to its new surroundings at Morning Glory and how it serves food.

“First we were dislodged,” Demo said. “Now, with the coronavirus we’re not able to gather people. We’re no different that other restaurants.

“We can still cook a little at our Nourish KC kitchen and then transfer the food to Morning Glory.”

NourishKC distributed lunches with pulled pork, rice, pasta salad and fruit earlier this week.

Krause said Morning Glory was happy to accommodate its fellow nonprofit.

“It’s easy for us to open our doors,” he said, “and Nourish KC has brought in their chef and volunteers to help.”

Both agencies receive food through Harvesters.

Nourish KC also obtains items for its menu from what’s called “Food Rescue,” a national organization with local participation that obtains donations from supermarkets and other sources of food that’s close to its expiration date.

And Morning Glory has been getting some timely help from Kwik Trip, which has furnished surplus breakfast sandwiches during the current crisis.

That’s come in handy now that breakfast has to be served on a to-go basis.

“We get them for practically nothing and the guys love them,” said Steve Bruns, manager at Morning Glory.

Those breakfast sandwiches have been augmented with fruit, coffee, milk and hard-boiled eggs on recent mornings.

The switch from buffet service and seating guest at tables to handing out meals at a take-out entrance has reduced the need for volunteers at both agencies, at least until the current Covid-19 health crisis abates.

For now, homeless people have to eat their meals outside because of health restrictions due to Covid-19. Organizers hope to find a better solution soon.

“Many of our volunteers are over the age of 60 and we’re encouraging them to stay at home,” Krause said.

The number of lunches served by Nourish KC has declined since the temporary dislocation to about 200, but as the full economic impact of the endemic takes hold, that’s expected to change.

“It’s been disruptive because our clients knew where we were and we’ve been a regular part of peoples’ lives and close to where people are living,” Gar said. “It’s made it harder for clients to find us.”

Krause added, “I think our numbers will increase when people stop seeing that paycheck.”

It will be at least three weeks before repairs can be completed to allow Nourish KC to return to its permanent home at Eighth and The Paseo, O’Byrne estimated.

Donations to help cover the cost of repairs and fund the ongoing operations of the homeless service agencies are welcome at the Downtown Council Community Services Center, Nourish KC and Morning Glory Ministries.

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