From Mandy Caruso-Yahne, Director of Community Engagement for Episcopal Community Services: Here at Episcopal Community Services, our motto is “Feeding the Hungry, Changing Lives.” We oversee a network of food programs across the Kansas City metro, including several pantries located in various Episcopal churches and the Kansas City Community Kitchen at 8th/Paseo, just east of downtown.

Kansas City Community Kitchen (KCCK) made the news this winter when we made a big change to the way lunch is served. Rather than a traditional soup kitchen model that serves cafeteria style meals (people waiting in line for their tray of food), we started serving nutritious, restaurant style meals.

We had a restaurant chef work on our menus and plating skills and we began using volunteers as hosts, bussers & waiters, giving diners the opportunity to choose which specific items would go on their plates. We use real silverware, china, offer refills on beverages, bus the tables for them and encourage volunteers to have conversation, getting feedback from our guests on how they like the food and what other menu items they’d like to see in the future. We call it “Dining with Dignity” and it made news – you may have seen us in the KC Star, on Upworthy, local news, or an online video that has been viewed over 38 million times on social media.

One of the most amazing things that happened out of the media frenzy is that we started getting calls and emails from all over the country and around the world asking how we got started and how they could do something similar. The truth is, we can do it because we are a part of a great community here in Kansas City and we have amazing partners, like Whole Foods, Farm to Market Bread Company and After the Harvest.

Serving meals that offer balanced nutrition but taste good can only be done if you have a variety of good ingredients, and After the Harvest is a primary source for fresh produce all growing season long. If they bring us more food than we can use to make our 300-375 lunches that day, we send it out to our network to be distributed in one of our food pantries.

Potatoes can become homemade French fries; fruit and salad are on the menu almost every day. When you volunteer to help After the Harvest, you’re also helping us – THANK YOU. And if you’d ever like to have a whole “farm to table” volunteer experience, let us know. You might end up picking apples one day, making them into cobbler and serving them for lunch the next.

If you’d like to learn more about our work, please go to the ECS website or you can email volunteer@episcopalcommunity.org.