Photograph by Steven Higgs

Community Kitchen Executive Director Vicki Pierce has overseen operations at the nonprofit agency for four of its 25 years serving meals to the hungry. Volunteers from the Monroe County United Ministries started the kitchen in 1982.

Situated at 917 S. Rogers St. in the midst of a residential area is a small building that has a major impact on the community.

Past a set of tiny offices a few steps inside the entrance, the hallway opens into a dining area. Every day, around dinner time, this room fills with regulars and newcomers, all looking for one thing -- a nutritious meal.

Community Kitchen of Monroe County is one of the places in Bloomington that provides citizens in need with free, hot meals. Others include Shalom Community Center, churches and other poverty-fighting organizations.

"We don't hear about people starving to death in our community," Community Kitchen Executive Director Vicki Pierce said. "There's no need for anyone to starve to death here."

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According to a history of Community Kitchen found on its Web site, the organization formed on June 21, 1983, and has fought the rise of hunger ever since.

The nonprofit organization began serving meals on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, not extending to the full week until the move to South Rogers in 1992.

The Community Kitchen was originally located at the Monroe County United Ministries, where women from several churches in town became the forces behind it.

"In keeping with their religious convictions, these women established a policy of asking no questions or outlining eligibility requirements for those needing food," the online history says.

Pierce reiterated this philosophy many times during a recent interview, saying the Community Kitchen's policy is: Anyone who walks through the doors of needs to be there.

Photograph by Steven Higgs

The kitchen moved to its South Rogers Street location in 1992. Pierce says fire codes limit capacity to 55 people, and the location is near the limit.

Six years after its start, Community Kitchen began to branch out. An additional feeding site was opened at McDoel Baptist Church in 1989.Three years later, the kitchen moved to South Rogers, with the help of Perry Township, which owns the building.

After almost a decade in their current location, staff members realized something else needed to be done to expand their services to other parts of the community. But, rather than open a duplicate of the Rogers Street kitchen, they established a carry-out-only location called "Community Kitchen Express" on West 11th Street.

Taking the place of the old fast food restaurant called Little Injun, the Express location was close to Crestmont, a subsidized housing complex with a concentrated, low-income population. Being on the opposite side of town, it is also less of a hassle for those who find it hard to make it to the South Rogers Street location.


In addition to serving anyone who walks through the doors, Community Kitchen also reaches out to children in need, providing a variety of programs throughout the year.

During the school year, the Backpack Buddies program provides backpacks of food for elementary children to take home every Friday so their nutritional needs are met over the weekend. On Mondays, kids bring the backpacks back to school.

"Research shows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that children receiving breakfasts in schools perform better," the Community Kitchen history states.

During the summer months, the kitchen implemented the Summer Breakfast Program, through which brown-bag breakfasts are delivered ice-cream truck style to low-income housing areas.

All of their meals come in nutritious and well-balanced portions so that patrons receive what they need from a good, full meal, Pierce said.


Looking ahead, Pierce said that the biggest problem the agency faces is space. With demand rising, the only thing agencies like Community Kitchen can do is provide as much help as they can with what resources they have.

The agency saw a 28 percent rise in the number of meals served from 2004 to 2007, she said. The number rose to a record 152,516 in 2007.

"Physically we've maximized our capacity in this space," Pierce said of the Rogers Street location.

Under safety and fire codes, the building is only supposed to have 55 people inside at one time, including staff and volunteers. And the space is already cramped in terms of storage -- just two small pantries and a walk-in cooler and freezer.

Pierce said the Kitchen now uses space in a nearby Cook Pharmica building, but that arrangement is temporary.

The thought of moving to another location is "ridiculous," she said.

"We're here, we've been here, we're on the bus line, we're close to downtown, we're in a neighborhood setting so we don't have to argue with businesses all the time," Pierce said. "We've made peace with this neighborhood. We all get along nicely."

Audree Notoras can be reached at .