Brief History of the Chattanooga Community Kitchen:

In 1982, seven downtown Chattanooga churches (Christ Episcopal, First Baptist, First Centenary United Methodist, First Christian, St. Paul’s Episcopal, Saints Peter and Paul Catholic, and Second Presbyterian) realized that their individual efforts were not meeting the needs of Chattanooga’s growing homeless population.  Several of the churches were offering meals and assistance with clothing, but the times, places, and amounts were irregular and loosely organized.  The churches teamed together in the creation of a meal-a-day feeding program, originally housed in the bottom floor of Christ Church Episcopal. Thus the Chattanooga Community Kitchen (Chattanooga Church Ministries, Inc.) was born.

Much like a soup kitchen, the feeding program continued for several years and the Community Kitchen didn’t really grow until 1986 when the property at 727 East 11th Street building was purchased and the 525 McCallie Corporation (as it was known at the time) chose to relocate the Kitchen and all of its services to 727 East 11th Street. Originally, it appeared that the Kitchen would be housed on McCallie Avenue (hence the original incorporation).

For the next several years, the Community Kitchen continued to grow.  Two night shelter contracts were acquired.  The Community Kitchen would operate them, but St. Matthew’s and St. Catherine’s Shelters would be housed in downtown churches. 

In 1988, the City of Chattanooga and CCK, recognized the need for aggressive actions to abate the rampant spread of disease and progressive decline in health among those experiencing homelessness. They opened the doors to the Homeless Health Care Center, a primary care provider that is accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation for Healthcare Organizations, and is among the nation’s first freestanding health care facilities for the homeless.  The clinic, as we call it, was housed in the Chattanooga Community Kitchen building, offering case management, substance abuse treatment, mental health aid, and full wellness with medical professionals on staff.

The next year, in 1989, the Community Kitchen, in cooperation with the Chattanooga Private Industry Council (PIC), received a grant to begin a homeless job training and placement program called the Job Placement Center.  For the first time, homeless men and women in Chattanooga had a program to help them prepare for, find, and maintain employment.  This was not only a Chattanooga initiative, but a national precedent.  The program became HELP II (Homeless Employment and Life Skills Program), was funded by HUD, and ultimately helped more than 200 people secure employment and housing each year.

Meanwhile, the feeding program, once a simple meal-a-day program, expanded to serve food three times a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. 

Soon after, the Community Kitchen opened the doors to a clothing and basic needs give-away program. Men, women, and children were in need of clothing, small household items, and basic hygiene items.  People could now have their most urgent needs met in one central location.

All of this growth led to the need for a serious fundraising campaign.  In 1989, the earliest version of Fast Day kicked off.  This first year capital campaign had a goal of $60,000.  To date it has raised over $10 million dollars.

In the same year, we began a recycling program born out of a desire to be better stewards of the community. Today, we operate as a full-service recycling drop off center; we unload and sort materials in-house, ultimately delivering them to the processing plants. Each year, we recycle more than 500,000 pounds, granting jobs to the homeless, and providing on-site job training.

Four years later, we received a state grant to create a new program: Supplemental Assistance for Facilities to Assist the Homeless (SAFAH), designed to help women and their children with the transition to permanent housing from the shelter system. Two case managers would go into the shelters, encounter people in need and follow them for six or more months after they enter permanent, stable housing.  The case managers would offer assistance with furniture, utilities, first month’s rent and deposits, as well as counseling, education, and employment needs.  At least fifty families would be housed every year in this program.

In response to the growing needs of the clinic and the limited space available, in 1994, the Community Kitchen acquired a building at 711 East 11th Street. It was renovated to meet the clinic’s expanding needs. The new building was technologically advanced, up to date, and designed specifically as a clinic.  Thanks to this move, the Community Kitchen’s staff was able to move into the old clinic area. This enabled an expansion of the food services area, and growth in our own services. Around that same period, the Hamilton County Health Department took over the program entirely.

Meanwhile, the explosion of families and children into the homeless population was too much to be left alone.  We began planning for and developing the Family Housing and Learning Center (FHLC), an on-site, transitional apartment complex for families.  Two case managers would meet weekly with each of the ten families in the program, guiding them through the challenges they face, and over the barriers to success.  Each year, approximately twenty families would move from shelters, through the program and into housing; many of these families moved into home ownership. While in the program, the residents would be required to save money, work toward meeting goals, and maintain employment.  The first apartment was filled in 1999.

The previous year, the Kitchen had acquired the building to the west, 739 East 11th Street.  Suddenly, we owned the entire north side of the 700 block of 11th Street.  Thanks to the increase in available space, in 2000, we opened the doors to the Consider the Lilies Thrift Store.  We would still do exactly what our clothing give-away program had done, but now we could employ people to operate the store, with many of them formerly homeless or working through our HELP II program. Each year we give away approximately 10 times as much merchandise as we sell.

As the next few years unfolded, many exciting changes came about. We fully remodeled our kitchen. We dealt with floods and hurricanes. We learned, grew, and maintained our compassion.

In 2008, we finally launched a plan to establish a full service Day Center offering constant engagement with case management, as well as a unique, innovative approach to outreach.

In 2013, the Community Kitchen took ownership of three facilities that were previously owned by Rosewood Supportive Services to create a permanent housing program.  The House of All Souls: a nine bedroom home especially designed to be a quiet, peaceful, and loving home for chronically homeless men with disabilities.  Matthew’s Place (also called Museum Street): two separate houses; one provides four bedrooms for homeless women with disabilities, the other house provides four bedrooms for homeless men with disabilities.  All 17 units provide a uniquely independent and permanent housing solution for the those we serve.

Still, family homelessness continued to grow; and very few shelter spaces in Chattanooga could keep families intact through the experience.  As a result, Families would often resort to sleeping in their cars or staying in unsafe places to avoid children having to separate. However, in 2012, after a local comprehensive assessment in cooperation with the Maclellan Foundation, a plan to address family homelessness began to take shape.

In 2014, the Maclellan Foundation pledged to renovate the former Homeless Health Care Center, located on our property, into a 13 room facility where homeless families could turn on the very night they became homeless. Construction began in July 2014, and our Maclellan Shelter for Families opened in December 2014. As a result, homeless families now have access to immediate, 24 hours shelter as well as the Kitchen’s comprehensive programs, such as meals, case management, job training, and other essential services.

Throughout 2016, staff focused on meeting more urgent needs while also working to transform programs to focus on eliminating homelessness through supportive housing.  In 2017, all federal grant programs transitioned from supportive services to permanent supportive housing, combining the HELP II and HOAS programs into Permanent Supportive Housing for Individuals, while combining the SAFAH and FHLC programs into Permanent Supportive Housing for Families.  Through this move, the organizational ministry of meeting immediate needs is maintained while we also focus on eliminating homelessness through best practices and efficient programming.

Every day, the staff and volunteers at the Community Kitchen work toward meeting the needs of families, children, men and women—we work not only on meeting the needs of today, but also on addressing the needs of tomorrow.

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