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Bill Radke: The hunger-relief group Feeding America says 37 million people came there for food last year. Across the country, a lot of food banks can’t keep up with demand. But there’s one soup kitchen in Washington, D.C. that has found a way to expand. Reporter Alexis Kenyon has our story.
Alexis Kenyon: A musician plucks a harp in the blue-lit basement cafeteria of Western Presbyterian Church. Volunteers for Miriam’s Kitchen serve ginger ale in plastic champagne glasses, mostly to men who are homeless or poor. Chef John Murphy is about to read the menu for tonight’s meal, which is anything but your stereotypical soup kitchen slop.
John Murphy: I’m extremely excited to have all of you guys here. All right: today’s menu is a Venison pot pie; the crust is a rosemary and cheddar crust. We also have a sweet potato puree that was sourced from the white house garden . . .
The man behind the menu’s creation is head chef Steve Badht. He arrived at Miriam’s in 2001. That’s when things changed for the better, says volunteer Vince Caratti.
Vince Caratti: Steve came in here with this whole new philosophy. The quality went from all this junky stuff to real fresh milk, fresh vegetables, fresh eggs. That’s why I’ve been here eight years.
The healthy food also attracted Michelle Obama to pay them a visit last July — and the donations followed.
Scott Schenkelberg: The publicity that was associate with her visit to Miriam’s Kitchen was amazing.
That’s Miriam’s executive director, Scott Schenkelberg. He says donations went up 33 percent to almost $2 million last year.
Still, Schenkelberg doesn’t want to overspend — 50 percent of food is donated, but for the other half, volunteers seek out deals with grocery stores. Just recently, the soup kitchen struck a deal with a local Costco for free produce that has cut Miriam’s food expenses in half.
Robert Pennington is eating dinner with a few other men. He says he’s been looking forward to this meal for weeks.
Robert Pennington: Miriam’s Kitchen, in my opinion, is the best free food in the country. I appreciate it, and I thank God this place is here.
Miriam’s is open for breakfast and now for dinner five days a week.
In Washington, I’m Alexis Kenyon for Marketplace.
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