After the passing of her father six years ago, Kelsey Steffens decided she wanted to give back to her community. As the executive director of Give & Take Kitchen, Steffens and her team work tirelessly to provide food to those struggling with hunger in the community.
“A lot of these kids are so young and have had to develop coping strategies that they should not have to deal with at that age. They have learned not to trust that food would always be there,” Steffens said.
Steffens came up with the idea for the Give & Take Kitchen years ago after volunteering with her mother to cater a breakfast with United Way. After seeing the reactions of those attending, she wanted to fight food insecurity. The Give & Take Kitchen first opened its doors in March of 2019 to operate as a food and nutrition resource for the community. Research from Feeding America indicates one in five children suffers from hunger.
“When we started serving, there were so many people that didn’t think the food was for them. Like they weren’t worth the effort, and that broke my heart,” Steffens said. “I don’t want anyone to feel they aren’t worth the effort of a good meal.”
After her father passed, Steffens was inspired by the stories of the generous and kind acts her father did for others without recognition.
“Because of his work, and leaving us taken care of, I felt I needed to give something back,” Steffens said. “God had given me these gifts, not to be hoarded but to be shared. The name Give & Take comes from being in a community where you can give what you can and take what you need.”
It was a challenge to get the Give & Take Kitchen up and running. The main obstacle Steffens faced was convincing people that food insecurity and hunger are prominent issues in the community.
When she became a mother, Steffens saw the reality neighborhood children face when it comes to food insecurity.
“It breaks my heart, and we don’t want to realize that there is that level of food insecurity in our communities, but there absolutely is,” Steffens said.
As a staff of four, the Give & Take Kitchen relies on the service of passionate volunteers to help provide for those in need in the neighborhoods and communities around us.
Raigan Stokes is the communications director for the nonprofit and has worked with Steffens since May 2019. Part of her job is to coordinate marketing, public relations and also manage volunteers. Her passion for nonprofits started when she was a child.
“Since I was young, I would get upset about big issues like kids being hungry,” Stokes said. “I think that what we are doing here is a good start to knocking out other problems. If kids don’t have to worry about food, it can help with mental issues and focus on school.”
About twice a week, members of the Southern Miss TRIAD AmeriCorps Program volunteer at the Give & Take Kitchen. Their passion and willingness to serve those in need has resonated and inspired the staff at the non-profit.
“We got a letter from them saying how much they love being here because we don’t treat them any differently because of their disability. I didn’t anticipate how much it means to give people in the community a way to give back to others,” Stokes said.
The effect the Give & Take Kitchen has had on the surrounding communities continues to grow with every meal given, but it has not been without its struggles. Steffens had to learn to delegate and learn from her failures.
“Because this is my baby, I had a hard time letting any part of it go to someone else. But I realized none of this can be done alone,” Steffens said. “I have learned to trust other people will feel as passionate as I do, and they will put their heart into it.”
Bert Kilgore is the kitchen manager for the Give & Take Kitchen and sees over the volunteers who come through. With 15 years of experience in the nonprofit industry and 15 more years in the restaurant industry, Kilgore wanted to continue serving through the Give & Take Kitchen.
“I have always had a passion for the homeless, and bringing them to soup kitchens and helping them. Working here has really been a God thing,” Kilgore said.
Steffens hopes to expand Give & Take Kitchen to include cooking classes, a broader nutrition program and to be able to deliver food on the weekends and holidays.
“If we let these kids grow up sick and uneducated about nutrition, we will have sick and uneducated adults leading our future,” Steffens said.
For those interested in volunteering or interested in more information about the Give & Take Kitchen, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at giveandtakekitchen.org.