Local homeless shelter to begin offering new services

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Miriam’s Kitchen, a local shelter serving the area’s homeless, has added a new dinner service to its popular breakfast hours starting Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The program will require more money and volunteers but the new initiative is designed to meet more of the needs of those visiting the Kitchen, said Scott Schenkelberg, executive director of Miriam’s Kitchen, in an interview last week.

“A lot of the guests that come to us are not entirely expressive, but through these various programs we can learn a lot about guests and ultimately, when we get to know them better, we can serve them better,” Schenkelberg said.

Guests can come as early as 2:30 p.m. for the 4:15 p.m. dinner. The program then lasts until 5:30 p.m., just slightly shorter than the breakfast program.

In addition to a meal, Miriam’s Kitchen offers case management services for those in need. From 2:30 p.m. until the beginning of the meal, guests can participate in a therapy program that involves activities like writing, knitting and sewing.

Schenkelberg explained that therapy is a way for the guests to become more receptive. Case managers and volunteers with skills in art and writing run the therapy sessions.

The program will cost about $700,000 a year, including the meals and case management services. The meals cost about $300,000 per year, while the case management services will cost about $400,000 per year.

Case management services include giving guests access to clothing, medical care, helping them find long-term housing and drug treatment.

The dinners will be funded almost entirely through private donations, like the majority of Miriam’s Kitchen’s services. Support comes from special events and from individual donations.

The food for the dinner program will come from the same sources as the morning program. Miriam’s Kitchen purchases about $64,000 per year of food for the morning program and Schenkelberg said he believes the Kitchen will purchase about $32,000 worth of food per year for the dinner program.

Food is purchased and donated from farmers’ markets, local food outlets and groceries, the Capital Area Food Bank and from individuals.

Schenkelberg estimates that when the dinner program is up and running, it will serve about 150 people per night. About 200 people are served in the breakfast program.

“We imagine there will be some ramp up period, where people will find out about Miriam’s services through word of mouth. It will be about a three month period after Jan. 18 before everything is completely set and ready to go,” said Schenkelberg.

“We want to make sure and get all the kinks out and make sure everything is running smoothly. In a few months, we will have an opening event and invite members of the community,” he added.

Schenkelberg anticipates the program will be smaller than the breakfast, as the evening program will be seasonal.

Despite recent city budget cuts impacting homelessness services across the city, Schenkelberg said the number of guests at Miriam’s Kitchen has not increased.

“I think it is still unclear what the total impact of the cuts will have on those who are homeless. Some of the funding cuts won’t be fully felt until the spring when other supplemental funds may be exhausted,” he said. “Ultimately, any reduction in funding for homeless services in the District is potentially disastrous. D.C. has one of the highest rates of homelessness per capita of any major urban area in the country.”

Bo Pham, a volunteer with Miriam’s Kitchen, said he will be helping out with the dinners. Pham has volunteered with the program, which is housed in the Western Presbyterian Church at 24th and G streets, for about seven years-he started in the kitchen and now also assists with case management.

“When I started out, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Pham said.

He said that people see Miriam’s Kitchen as simply a soup kitchen, but the food brings clients into contact with social services and people seem to miss this aspect. Pham expects to see many of the same guests who frequent the breakfast program to attend the dinner program.

“Miriam’s Kitchen depends on volunteers’ support,” Schenkelberg said. “Over 1,000 volunteers per year make our meal and case management programs possible.”

He added, “We would love to see more GW students involved in our afternoon prep shifts for the evening meal.”

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