Nestled between downtown San Jose and the quaint town of Willow Glen lies a “little soup kitchen” that turns 34 in 2015. 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 nutritious hot meals onsite with its mission to “feed the hungry with dignity, no questions asked, no judgment made.” At the end of 2014 it served its 3,000,000th meal since its founding, and has now grown to an annual production of 300,000 meals. How does Martha’s Kitchen accomplish so much with so small a staff? The answer is Collaboration. It sends out over 260,000 hot and cold meals annually to over 30 other non-profit organizations in Santa Clara county as far south as Morgan Hill and Gilroy, as well as Merced, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. The “little soup kitchen that could” has proven it certainly could run an efficient kitchen with a lean staff of 8.5 employees.
How does Martha’s Kitchen accomplish so much with so small a staff? The answer is Collaboration.
Martha’s Kitchen has created a network of cooperating community-based organizations who collaborate to help each other deliver the services for which they have the expertise. This arrangement allows participating agencies to focus on their core competencies at the most efficient level by avoiding duplication of services.
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 and 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.