Everybody's Kitchen

story and photo by Michael Roger
reprinted by kind permission of the Bond Community Star, Atlanta Ga.

"Hello. Would you like some produce?" was the greeting received when encountering the folks of Everybody's Kitchen .

Everybody's Kitchen exists solely to feed the homeless and others in the cities they visit. Everybody's Kitchen, like elves helping Santa, arrived for a visit to Atlanta just before Thanksgiving and stayed through the middle of January. The cul-de-sac on Arizona between the Lake Claire Land Trust and the Lake Claire Cohousing provided the staging ground for this work for the homeless of Atlanta.

Everybody's Kitchen comprises six or so volunteers, kitchen bus, flatbed truck and a couple of vans. The volunteers receive no compensation and at times have to take jobs to earn money to keep the project going. The kitchen bus comprises a full kitchen with stove, oven and food storage closet all meeting or exceeding public health standards in local restaurants across the nation. The flatbed truck is used to gather food from wholesalers, restaurants, bakeries and the like, and to serve the food from in the impoverished parts of the cities. The vans provide sleeping quarters for the volunteers.

For the volunteers each day is composed of the preparation of food for hundreds and the gathering of food for the next day or more. The volunteers each have experience working in a restaurant kitchen, so like an artist they turn the food available into quality works of art such as soups, breads, pastas and more.

After the food is prepared the kitchen would load the flatbed and take the food to four or more sites in the city and serve to anyone who came by. In Atlanta some of the the sites were downtown close to Auburn Ave. and in Northwest Atlanta. Throughout the day contacts were being made to produce wholesalers, restaurants, bakeries and more, locating food and supplies that people might want to donate to the project. Trips to the State Farmers Market were common. What was donated was perishable food on the edge of its freshness date that couldn't be sold and needed to be used quickly. Overstock of supplies were contributed.

Necessities such as fuels for cooking and travel are paid for. To get money the volunteers work temporary part-time jobs as needed. In Atlanta they would leaflet for local businesses. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, they are able to work as gardeners when they pass through. Contributions are very minimal as there is not any formal address for the group. The kitchen bus, stove and other items have all been donated to the project from other groups or by individuals and governments.

Everybody's Kitchen evolved from a gathering of the Rainbows in Ocala Forest, Florida. A few of the folks preparing food for the gathering enjoyed the process and each other that they decided to channel it into Everybody's Kitchen. The Kitchen is not on a schedule; they go from city to city based on collective decision and stay as long as they feel welcome. They have spent a lot of time on the West Coast, but have recently been in Detroit, Pittsburgh and Atlanta. Thoughts were leading them towards Florida during the colder days of their stay in Atlanta.

Everybody's Kitchen tries to minimize their impact on the immediate area where they visit. In Atlanta they were given water from a neighbor. Bathroom needs were taken care of through facilities in local parks and nearby neighbors, never outdoors. Initially Everybody's Kitchen workers slept in their vans while in Atlanta and later moved into the homes of warmhearted souls in Lake Claire.

The volunteers are all young adults who are able to give up just about everything for the project. Space is limited so material items are minimal. All moneys earned by individuals are pooled for the good of the project. The current volunteers come from cities across the United States, such as Detroit, Michigan, and Fort Collins, Colorado. They are not castaways from families, but keep in touch regularly with their families. The current group of workers has been together for close to two years. People do come and go from the group, but transition is slow.

Everybody's Kitchen moved out of Lake Claire in mid-January to a destination unknown. Some neighbors complained about their presence. Not finding any violations of city or state law, complaints followed about sleeping in the vans, remedied by sleeping in host homes. Complaints were then made about the vehicles, four of them, parked in the cul-de-sac, so workers and vehicles had to be dispersed each evening. Sensing the hostility someone in the neighborhood had towards them, Everybody's Kitchen moved on and the Christmas season turned to the winter doldrums once again.