Students lend a helping hand at Miriam’s Kitchen

It is hard for many students to imagine anything that would get them out of bed before 6 a.m. Many have enough trouble making it to their 9:30 a.m. classes on time. However, every weekday morning at Miriam’s Kitchen volunteers arrive at 6 a.m. to prepare a hot, nutritious breakfast for about 150 homeless men and women. Miriam’s Kitchen is an independent, non-profit organization that works out of the Western Presbyterian Church on 24th Street and Virginia Avenue. The kitchen serves breakfast and provides other services for the homeless community in the Foggy Bottom District.

This effort to help the community started October 6, 1983, when Miriam’s Kitchen was founded by a local coalition of churches and organizations, which included a rabbi from GW, as well as the GW Newman Center. GW still stays involved with Miriam’s Kitchen with the help of Amiko Matsumoto, a board member for Miriam’s Kitchen and staff director of GW’s Office of Community Service.

There are no shelters in the area around Miriam’s Kitchen, so the majority of Miriam’s Kitchen’s clients sleep on the streets. Many also deal with mental illness or serious substance abuse problems, according to Ruth Dickey, executive director of Miriam’s Kitchen.

Sophomore Brian Miller, an intern at Miriam’s Kitchen, said many of the homeless people he occasionally stops to talks with on the street know about Miriam’s Kitchen, especially since it is the only service they have in the Foggy Bottom area.

This is why the organization does more than serve breakfast. Miriam’s Kitchen offers many programs to help the homeless, including a visual arts program, a creative writing program and two other programs run by GW students.

The visual arts program that began in 1994 meets once a week. Participants in the program make paintings and murals. Art created in the program has been displayed at the Martin Luther King Library and the Colonnade Gallery in the Marvin Center. The art also decorates the walls of the dining hall at Miriam’s Kitchen.

The creative writing program also was established in 1994 and meets twice a week, giving homeless individuals the opportunity to express themselves in a safe, community atmosphere, Dickey said.

The visual arts program and the creative writing program have been instrumental in placing some of our clients in housing, Dickey said. Not because the art puts them in housing, but because through these programs clients have been able to form critical relationships that can give them the assistance they need.

GW senior Aaron Bernay started a reading group at Miriam’s Kitchen this semester. The reading group meets every Friday. Bernay begins the session by reading a short story, which the group discusses along with other stories or books someone in the group has read.

Bernay said he was inspired to start the reading group after a conversation he had one night with a homeless man. Bernay and the man sat on a park bench and talked about literature for two and a half hours. That night Bernay realized there are not many forums for homeless people to talk about literature or even find books to read, he said.

Bernay said his program has drawn wide interest at Miriam’s Kitchen even though it is only a few weeks old.

Last year GW helped raise money for Miriam’s Kitchen by allowing students to donate extra meal points to the organization at the end of the year. The Points Distribution Project, which was sponsored by the Student Association, raised about $9,000. Miriam’s Kitchen used that money to purchase food and toiletries Dickey said.

The Points Distribution Project was really helpful last year, Dickey said. It allowed us to buy things like fresh strawberries and bottled water, things that we usually can’t get.

Students will participate in the program again this spring, said Carl Benincasa, vice president of Community Affairs for the SA.

Miriam’s Kitchen continues to expand its services. The organization is developing a case-management program to help homeless people get back on their feet and off the streets, according to Dickey. Two case managers will help homeless people with a wide range of things, from getting an ID card to finding treatment for a mental disability.

Once the case management program is up and running, Dickey said the organization plans to start a transitional-housing program to house people who are either working or work-ready, meaning they are prepared to go out and get a job but do not currently hold one, who cannot afford housing on their own. Miriam’s Kitchen plans to buy a house for this program in February or March 2001 and start moving people into it in October 2001, Dickey said.

This program is so beneficial, Miller said. It is helping a population that is not connected with services, but needs to be. This is a huge way to help people get back on track.

Students who are interested in volunteering at Miriam’s Kitchen can sign up at GW’s Office of Community Service. Dickey said students can do more to get involved.

There are three things that students can do, Dickey said. One, get involved with any non-profit that interests you. Two, treat people with dignity and respect. Three, get involved on a political level. As laws come up be active, vote, and say that it is not O.K.

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