In Knoxville Tennessee, a large community center equipped with a kitchen is run by two sisters that have a mission. That mission is to feed the hungry, the homeless, the hopeless and the homebound states Helen Ashe.
Ashe and her twin sister Ellen founded the Love Kitchen in 1986 and have provided more than one million free meals to the needy of Knoxville. The Love Kitchen makes about 2000 meals per week from the community center facilities and distributes around 1500 of these meals to the homebound residents of Knoxville. The remaining 500 is distributed on Wednesdays and Thursdays at lunchtime for anyone who needs food.
Helen and Ellen get a weekly list of homebound or hospitalized people in the area and prepare a nutritious box meal of an entrée, vegetable, bread and dessert that is distributed to each needy recipient by a volunteer. The Love Kitchen sends out seven of these box meals to each person so that they have food to eat for an entire week. The volunteers take the food to the people and provide companionship and encouragement that according to Helen, feeds the body and the soul at the same time. Helen Ashe grew up in tough times in Abbeville, South Carolina in the 30’s and 40’s with her twin sister. The family lived in a home with no lights or running water and experienced many hardships growing up. The two sisters reflect that they were taught even in those hard times to consider others and to leave something in the pot in case someone came by hungry.
Helen states that this tradition of giving has become a theme for their lives and is the foundation of the mission to feed the hungry. The twins graduated as nurses in and began work at what now is the University Of Tennessee Medical Center. At the time, segregation was widespread and many of the black patients often struggled just to eat. Ashe said that she was inspired by the suffering to do something to help with this situation. Ashe used her own money to begin her mission and in 1986 a local pastor offered her the basement of his church as a base of operations.
The first day the Love Kitchen opened its doors, it served 22 meals. As the number of recipients has grown, so has the size of the building and two decades later, the ladies are still serving home cooked meals to those in need. The food is now donated by local grocery stores, farmers and specialty shops and the meals are served fresh. Volunteers range in age, and many local professionals report being inspired by Ashe’s vision and work regularly to help out the mission of the Love Kitchen.