​During a Servant Project, Brady Woods, a member of the Berlin (Ohio) Mennonite Church youth group, serves a noon meal July 2 to patrons at NourishKC, a non-profit near downtown Kansas City that is dedicated to building a food-secure region in the Greater Kansas City area. Photo by Laurie Oswald Robinson.

By Laurie Oswald Robinson
Tuesday, July 2, 2019

​KANSAS CITY (Mennonite Mission Network) – Brady Woods said the reason he did a Servant Project on Tuesday morning before MennoCon19 began was so that he wouldn’t remain stuck in his ways.

Waiting tables for the lunchtime crowd NourishKC promised to challenge his own perspective. Woods, a member of the Berlin (Ohio) Mennonite Church youth group, prepped for lunch and waited tables during lunch with more than a dozen of his peers and several adult sponsors.

“I am hoping that today I get moved off my comfort zone,” he said. “Sometimes it is so easy to get stuck in patterns, and I want to keep changing. I don’t want to get complacent.”

Complacent is probably the last thing Woods could be as the doors opened at 11 a.m. That’s when a rush of individuals and families from all walks of life came pouring in for the free, nutritious meal, bringing in the summer heat with them. Lunch would be served for two and a half hours, and

Woods took orders at for the meal – a choice between sesame chicken or pulled pork along with salad and fruit -- as other peers washed dishes, greeted patrons, got drinks and bussed tables. The hungry individuals and families with children from the neighborhood as well as construction laborers and other kinds of workers received both a hot meal and a warm welcome from the Berlin youth.

Providing nutritious – often rich in locally-grown fruits and vegetables – noon meals is what NourishKC is dedicated to doing, Monday through Friday. The non-profit’s mission is to build a food-secure region in the Greater Kansas City area. It does this by providing healthy food and by empowering people to move beyond the barriers of poverty with dignity – i.e. the “fine dining” experience of choosing from a menu and being served by a waiter.

In operation for nearly 30 years, NourishKC operates several food programs, including Kansas City Community Kitchen, a network of emergency food pantries and meal programs and food rescue. Formerly, it also sponsored the Culinary Cornerstones Training Program, which it discontinued temporarily this past January.

NoursishKC coordinator Linda Aguilar set a positive, non-judgmental tone for the noon meal experience, when she helped to orient the Berlin group to their volunteer job for the day.

“Don’t assume everyone who comes in those doors is in the same category, because they’re not,” she said. “Not everyone who comes here is homeless, though they may be. Sometimes, you have police officers and even medical personnel who come in from the heat from the mobile unit they run outside.

“We don’t distinguish between who is who. We simply treat them all like kings and queens.”

Serving up huge portions of human dignity with healthy helpings of food is a main priority for the non-profit, said Erin Bassett, food service director for NourishKC and a professional chef. “One of our main, core values is that we believe having access to healthy food is a basic human right,” she said. “And when we have volunteers like the Mennonite group of kids today, we are able to serve our meal restaurant style and give people options from the menu.

“So often the folks we serve have stood in lines all day for other services, only to be told at the end of that line that they don’t have a choice in what they are given. “Choice is huge for human beings, even though many of us take that for granted. It is dehumanizing not to have a choice.”






​Laurie Oswald Robinson is editor for Mennonite Mission Network.



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