MATT TALBOT KITCHEN & OUTREACH - The spacious dining room at the new Matt Talbot Kitchen and Outreach location will seat all guests more comfortably. (SNR photo by S.L. Hansen)
LINCOLN (SNR) - Easter dinner will be the last meal served at the current location of Matt Talbot Kitchen & Outreach (MTKO). The organization is in the process of moving to its new location at 2121 North 27th Street, where it will begin serving meals on April 5.
“It’s really going to be a great center,” said Executive Director Susanne Blue, M.S.W., who celebrated her tenth year with MTKO in January.
MTKO outgrew its leased facility at 19th & Q some time ago, and the number of guests continues to grow. Sometimes, Mrs. Blue said, it has been so crowded at times, people who came for a nutritious lunch or dinner couldn’t find a seat.
“I’ve seen people come into the hallway, look around and walk out,” she lamented.
The new facility began with the old Carnegie Library, which is a historic landmark. A 12,000-square foot addition was designed by Sinclair Hille Architects to complement the old building.
This addition provides more room for the dining hall, kitchen and storage areas of MTKO. The program will also have more room now for various programs hosted by MTKO, such as foot clinics, monthly legal assistance and mental health advocacy.
There will be a few extra services as well. For example, MTKO will now be able to offer limited childcare. A room is set aside for children whose parents are receiving assistance or attending one of the life skills instruction classes. Volunteers will help keep children entertained and comfortable.
Another new service will be laundry and shower facilities for the eight percent of MTKO guests who are homeless.
“We’ve wanted this for quite a while,” Mrs. Blue said.
Some years ago, another program for Lincoln’s homeless called Daywatch shared space with MTKO and provided the opportunity for showers and laundry. Daywatch later moved to a different facility and later closed down, so it’s been years since the homeless have had access to these services.
“We really feel like we’ll be able to meet those basic needs – in protecting their dignity and achieving some of their goals,” said Mrs. Blue.
She pointed out that personal hygiene and clean clothes can make the difference in acquiring employment. Getting a job is an important step for a homeless person who is working toward stability and financial independence.
The new facility will also afford staff and volunteers some improvements. Each staff member will now have a private office instead of sharing space with one or two others…and always standing ready to give up the office to a visiting mental health professional or attorney who needs to meet in private with an MTKO guest.
“It’s been musical chairs around here sometimes,” Mrs. Blue admitted.
Volunteers will also have a small locker area for their coats, umbrellas and other personal items. And everybody – staff, volunteers and guests – will appreciate the larger parking lot.
The larger environs will also allow MTKO’s dietitian to expand the organization’s Hope Garden project.
The garden is used for two key components of MTKO services: first, to teach guests (including kids) how to raise their own healthy, affordable food and second, to supply the kitchen with fresh vegetables for lunch and dinner service.
While the new location is some distance from MTKO’s current site, Mrs. Blue noted that the staff had surveyed guests and found that most lived in the 68503 zip code, which is where the new facility stands. It’s on a bus route and a bike path, so nearly all of the MTKO guests will be able to access it easily.
The MTKO relocation has been generously supported by numerous benefactors and sponsors. Last year, MTKO launched the Witness to Hope campaign, which sought to raise the $1.6 million dollars required to complete the project.
They are getting close. It changes daily, but at press time, MTKO had raised slightly over $1.25 million. A “sneak peek” event was held Thursday, April 1, with the goal of collecting a little more.
It is admittedly difficult for Mrs. Blue to go into the new facility with the debt, particularly because she knows utility costs will naturally be higher.
“It’s been a hard year to do this,” she said. “Not only did we have to do this in less than a year, we also had to do it during one of the harshest economic times we’ve had.”
She continued, “We’re very thankful to the community. They’ve been very generous. We’ve even seen some of our guests contribute.”
It’s the enthusiasm and gratitude of the MTKO guests that give Mrs. Blue and her staff the hope to keep pressing on.
Some of those guests who routinely volunteer so they can “give something back” to MTKO were able to see the new facility last week when they helped move some items into it.
“They’re very excited,” Mrs. Blue said. “They just can’t believe how beautiful the facility be, how spacious it is…It’s really going to be wonderful.”
For more information about MTKO’s new building, please visit www.mtkserves.org. Contributions can still be made to the Witness to Hope campaign. Call (402) 477-4116 to learn more.