Volunteers get busy in Feed Louisville's food-rescue processing area.

Feed Louisville’s food rescue grows

Homelessness – or houselessness, as many advocates prefer to call it since even a tent is still a person’s home – is an ongoing crisis.

The Coalition for the Homeless declared homelessness “one of the most pressing crises facing Louisville today” in a 2021 report that found 10,640 people without housing in the city in 2021.

While more than half of those had protection in nonprofit shelters, fully 35% were living in the streets or other temporary settings. It was a 41% increase since 2018, a rising tide perhaps driven by the pandemic but that appears to continue in spite of the city’s controversial efforts to clear houseless encampments and urge people into shelters that many of them prefer to avoid.

“The primary cause of homelessness is poverty,” the Coalition observed in its report, “and the solution to homelessness is housing: affordable, safe, permanent housing throughout our city for our poorest neighbors, with personalized services for those who need support.”

An obvious support service: Good food

One of the most obvious support services for people without housing is food: Good, appetizing and nutritious food.

Last spring I reported on the good work being done by Feed Louisville, a non-profit – then operating out of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church – that mobilized chefs and volunteers to “rescue” unused food from local restaurants that would have otherwise gone to waste. The chefs and volunteer workers would repackage this salvaged food in the form of appetizing new dishes tand move it out quickly distribute to Louisville’s houseless community.

Feed Louisville executive director and chef Rhona Kamar and expo and volunteer manager Sean "Koog" Koogan  talk about the day's food rescue plan.

Feed Louisville executive director and chef Rhona Kamar and expo and volunteer manager Sean “Koog” Koogan talk about the day’s food rescue plan.

Six months later I checked back in with Feed Louisville’s executive director and chef Rhona Kamar and learned good news: The non-profit’s success and the pressing need for their services has spurred remarkable progress and significant changes.

Quickly outgowing their church kitchen, a welcome but undersized space of barely 1,000 square feet, Feed Louisville has just completed a move into a venue eight times larger: The former Dare to Care kitchen on Story Avenue in Butchertown.

With the help of both financial and equipment grants, Feed Louisville has hired additional chefs to their full-time staff including veterans of kitchens at Le Relais, Proof on Main, Wiltshire on Market, and more. They’re also focusing intently on food rescue and feeding now, having spun off their housing and training operation in the Arthur Street motel as a separate nonprofit. Now Feed Louisville can focus 100 percent on what its name implies: Get healthy, nutritious food into the hands of hungry people on the city’s streets.

“We’ve been looking for a new kitchen for over a year,” Kamar told me as we toured the spacious new quarters in a red-brick industrial building. “It has been really challenging to find the perfect kitchen and I’m so amazed and thankful that we found this kitchen.”

Over the past year, Kamar said, any number of people have asked if she has looked at the old Dare to Care kitchen that Louisville’s food bank vacated when it moved to its own even larger kitchen several years ago. And every time she said, ’I’m sure it’s rented,’ and didn’t bother. But finally, when on emore person asked, she thought “why not,” found the property manager, and found it was available.

“The doors keep opening …”

“The doors keep opening, the path keeps clearing,” she said. “We keep getting these signals from the community that we’re doing something that needs to be done. So this is another example of that, this kitchen was absolutely perfect for us. And it’s very meaningful to us that this used to be the Dare to Care Kitchen because our partnership with them means a lot to us.”

With the help of a $200,000 grant that Feed Louisville recieved earlier this year from a private family trust they were able to move right in without having to do a capital campaign; better still, they were able to use some of that money toward equipment and renovation.

All this gets done with the hard work of 17 full-time staff members, including the chefs, and plenty of help from volunteers. Currently Feed Louisville gets help from at least 50 volunteers weekly, but Kamar and volunteer manager Sean “Koog” Koogan hope to see that number rise as the new space comes online, allowing plenty of opportunity for more.

Want to volunteer? Check out Feed Louisville’s volunteer opportunities and sign up on its online volunteer page, feedlouisville.org/volunteer.html

While the opportunity for growth is exciting, Kamar said, quality remains the key. “We are not trying to produce thousands of thousands of millions of millions of millions of meals. We will find our edge where we can keep our chefs close to the food. That’s really important to us.

“The chefs being in the center of this work is what’s unique about our model. … Our chefs do this work as a commitment. It’s a form of activism for them We believe in feeding people, but staying close to the food is really important. When you start mass producing things, you lose out. You lose touch with the food.”

As Feed Louisville grows into its new space, they’ll expanding their partnerships, “We know from our peers around the country doing the same thing that their models include multiple community partners. And so that’s our goal as well. We have big dreams for what we want to do around hunger, relief and food rescue,” she said.

For instance, a private donor’s $25,000 grant will be seed money to raise $100,000 to support West End neighborhood farmers to raise fresh and healthful produce for the community.

They’re also developing a food-as-medicine program, working with medical and nutrition experts to produce meals tailored to the health needs of houseless individuals with diabetes and other conditions requiring specialized nutrition.

On November 1 Feed Louisville will launch its annual fund campaign, hoping to raise $500,000 for next year’s operations. Watch for details on Feed Louisville’s website feedlouisville.org and their Facebook page, facebook.com/feedlouisville