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Miriam’s Kitchen offers complimentary breakfast and dinner every weekday ~ Washington

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Meals at Miriam’s Kitchen have a familiar rhythm. There are more guests at dinner than at breakfast, fewer guests overall at the beginning of the month than at the end of the month. That’s because of the unique guests Miriam’s Kitchen serves: people affected by homelessness in Washington, as well as people who have an apartment but can’t always afford groceries.

“If someone has a good spot in the morning, especially when it’s raining, they don’t want to lose it,” he says Cheryl Bellthe chef at Miriam’s Kitchen.

If you’ve slept in a park, on a bench, or in a doorway—with all your belongings nearby—you might not want to be bothered to head to 24th Street and Virginia Avenue NW at 7 a.m. for the hour-long breakfast service be with Miriam. You may prefer to stay hungry and wait until dinner is available from 4pm to 5pm

At the beginning of the month, there are fewer guests because that’s when people get their benefit checks, Bell explains. They can afford to buy their own food. These funds dwindle as the month progresses.

“The last two weeks it gets really intense,” says Bell.

On a Friday afternoon, Bell finds himself in the basement kitchen at Western Presbyterian Church. It’s 3:30 p.m., half an hour before the doors open to guests already queuing outside on the sidewalk. The evening menu is written on a blackboard: choice of chicken coconut curry or vegetarian curry (cauliflower, spinach, peas, chickpeas), rice, cabbage, salad and applesauce. Bell stirs curry in a large pot while volunteers from Ernst & Young chop vegetables for the salad.

In the dining room, other volunteers from the consulting firm are picking up instructions Rachel Glasman, the corporate partnerships officer at Miriam’s Kitchen. Some of the Ernst & Young volunteers hand out plastic cutlery, some take drink orders (water, juice or coffee), others stand behind a table stocked with free gloves, socks, thermal underwear and personal care kits (toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, deodorant, tissues).

There are also condoms and cans of Narcan, the nasal spray that treats overdoses. Visitors can pick up their mail and charge their phones in the dining room.

At 4 p.m. Glassman says, “Let’s get into position.”

The doors open and guests descend the stairs into the dining room, where 15 tables for four are arranged in three rows. Each guest has a numbered ticket like you would find at a deli counter.

Meg Dominguez, Deputy Director of Social Services, greets the guests. “Good evening,” she says. “Welcome to Miriam’s kitchen. Have a seat.”

Chef Cheryl comes out of the kitchen. “Good evening everyone,” she says before describing the menu.

As Dominguez announces the range of numbers lit up on a lighted plaque on the wall — “Up to 870, please… 880, please, 890, please” — guests rise from their seats, hand her their tickets, and line up to go to the to be served at the kitchen counter.

“I’ll have chicken, please,” says the first guest.

Dinner is a way for those in need to invade Miriam’s Kitchen orbit. Some people come for years to dine before accepting the group’s offer to match them with a clerk who can get them lodging.

It can be easier to accept help from someone you know than a stranger, and Dominguez greets many of the guests by name: “Hey Paul! Hello Jeff!”

And so it goes for the next hour as men and women who have lived in parks, in tents, in cars come down the stairs to eat and relax. The last customer comes through the line at 4:55 p.m

Exactly 140 guests were entertained, which Bell has predicted based on the time of month. All unearned food will be boxed for people living in permanent supportive shelters.

On Monday at 7 o’clock people come down the stairs for breakfast.

Miriam’s kitchen, a partner of The Washington Post Helping Hand, serves breakfast and dinner every weekday to people in need. It does a lot more. And you can support this work.

To donate to Miriam’s Kitchen online, visit posthelpinghand.com and click where it says donate. To give by check, write to Miriam’s Kitchen, Attn: Development, 2401 Virginia Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20037.

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