Nestled between downtown San Jose and the quaint town of Willow Glen lies a “little soup kitchen” that turned 33 in 2014. Founder Louise Benson began this work out of her garage when she prepared and gave away peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the poor. Then in 1981, she and her friends started Martha’s Kitchen, on the premises of the Sacred Heart Church, serving hot meals. The kitchen was named after a biblical figure, Martha, who unfailingly offered hot meals to Jesus and his band of followers on their frequent journeys through the community of Bethany.
Today, this “little soup kitchen” is not so little anymore. It still gives out hot meals onsite with its mission to “feed the hungry with dignity, no questions asked, no judgment made.” At the end of 2014 it will have served its 3,000,000th meal since its founding, and has now grown to an annual production of 250,000 meals. How does Martha’s Kitchen accomplish so much with so small a staff? The answer is Collaboration. It sends out over 210,000 hot and cold meals annually to about 30 other non-profit organizations in Santa Clara county as far south as Gilroy, Merced and Santa Cruz counties. The “little soup kitchen that could” has proven it certainly could run an efficient kitchen with a lean staff of 8.5 employees.
Hunger is our primary focus. Just ask any chronically hungry person what his goals are and you will most likely get a blank stare. Even those of us who can afford three square meals a day know that it is hard to focus on anything else with an empty stomach.
At its location at 311 Willow St., San Jose, CA 95110, Martha’s Kitchen serves not only as a soup kitchen but also as a central kitchen that prepares meals for other sites. It also serves as a clearing house of produce, meat, poultry, frozen and baked goods collected by a band of volunteers from grocery stores and produce markets. These are sorted, then usable goods are kept for meal preparation, and any surplus shared with partner agencies.
WHAT WE DO
If you would like to join our volunteer team you must be at least 16 years old, bring an apron and wear closed-toe shoes with non-slip soles. Join us for our monthly visit to Martha’s Kitchen. You can also join a number of other shifts and go to Martha’s Kitchen on your own. Mornings are usually food prep work such as loading and unloading trucks, sorting donations, washing/cutting fruits and vegetables, making sandwiches, stripping turkeys and various other tasks, as required. The afternoon shift involves serving hot meals, pouring beverages, washing dishes, garbage duty, and clean up.