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From the Field: Miriam’s Kitchen

By Marie LeBlanc, Community Partnerships Coordinator

An early Saturday morning, in a church basement in Foggy Bottom, DC parents bring their children to learn about what it means to be homeless in Washington. Last Saturday, Miriam’s Kitchen hosted Coats and Coffee, an education and awareness event that offered kids the chance to do service around the “kitchen” while also learning about the clients that Miriam’s serves — in an age-appropriate way. Sherika Brooks and I stopped by to drop off our donations of coffee (Miriam’s goes through thousands of cups a week) and learn a bit more about the services they offer.

Miriam’s Kitchen is unique among nonprofits offering outreach services for those experiencing homelessness. As one of Miriam’s Kitchen’s case managers explained to us, Miriam’s operates first and foremost under the context of hospitality — welcoming clients with a smile and a nametag (whatever that name might be for the day), offering a cup of hot coffee, a freshly prepared meal, and then the option to learn about and access additional services if desired. Relationships are the focus == and meeting clients where they’re at is the method. Another unique aspect of Miriam’s Kitchen program is Miriam’s Studio, an art therapy program that helps to “build a strong community and relationships with their guests.” The products of this program cover the walls of the dining room at Miriam’s Kitchen — beautiful pieces of art that show the diversity of life experiences that Miriam’s guests bring into the space.

Sara Gibson, Director of Development, spoke to the immediacy of Miriam’s Kitchen’s work: “We work with those who no one else is working with. If we [Miriam's Kitchen] disappeared tomorrow, a majority of our clients would have nowhere else to go.” While that point is hard-hitting, Miriam’s Kitchen, like most direct-service nonprofits, is working to put itself out of business and has found a model that seems to do the trick. The “housing first” model of ending chronic homelessness has shown incredible results and is part of Miriam’s Kitchen’s efforts to advocate for “permanent supportive housing as a long-term solution.” Through partnerships with other nonprofits, including Pathways to Housing, Miriam’s Kitchen is increasing its engagement with finding housing solutions, in addition to providing immediate relief.

As the weather gets colder, windier, and icier, it’s hard to think of anyone spending a night outdoors. The work of Miriam’s Kitchen is important all year round, but homeless services organizations play a particularly important role as life on the streets becomes even harder. If you’re looking for a way to support Miriam’s Kitchen this winter, they can always use donations of men’s winter clothes (pants, sweatshirts, etc.) and travel size toiletries.

Check out other Catalogue nonprofits doing great work with those experiencing homelessness here.

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