Louisville HotBytes: Feed Louisville’s Food Rescue Grows Into Larger Space

Volunteers get busy in Feed Louisville's food-rescue processing area.
All photos by Robin Garr.
Volunteers get busy in Feed Louisville's food-rescue processing area.

Homelessness – or houselessness, as many advocates prefer to call it, since even a tent is still a person’s home – is an ongoing crisis.

The Coalition for the Homeless declared homelessness “one of the most pressing crises facing Louisville today” in a report that found 10,640 people without housing in the city in 2021. While more than half of those had protection in nonprofit shelters, fully 35% were living in the streets or other temporary settings.

It was a 41% increase since 2018, a rising tide perhaps driven by the pandemic but that appears to continue in spite of the city’s controversial efforts to clear houseless encampments and urge people into shelters that many of them prefer to avoid.

“The primary cause of homelessness is poverty,” the Coalition observed in its report, “and the solution to homelessness is housing: affordable, safe, permanent housing throughout our city for our poorest neighbors, with personalized services for those who need support.”

One of the most obvious support services for people without housing is food: good, appetizing, and nutritious food.

In the spring, I reported on the good work being done by Feed Louisville, a nonprofit – then operating out of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church – that mobilized chefs and volunteers to "rescue" unused food from local restaurants that would have otherwise gone to waste. The chefs and volunteer workers would repackage this salvaged food in the form of appetizing new dishes and quickly distribute it to Louisville's houseless community.

Feed Louisville's chefs use their skills to create appealing dishes from donated food that would otherwise go to waste. These ghostly marshmallow-topped brownies celebrate Halloween.
Feed Louisville's chefs use their skills to create appealing dishes from donated food that would otherwise go to waste. These ghostly marshmallow-topped brownies celebrate Halloween.

Six months later, I checked back in with Feed Louisville’s executive director and chef Rhona Bowles Kamar and learned good news: The nonprofit’s success and the pressing need for their services have spurred remarkable progress and significant changes.

Quickly outgrowing their church kitchen, a welcome but undersized space of barely 1,000 square feet, Feed Louisville has just completed a move into a venue eight times larger: the former Dare to Care kitchen on Story Avenue in Butchertown.

With the help of both financial and equipment grants, Feed Louisville has hired additional chefs to their full-time staff, including veterans of kitchens at Le Relais, Proof on Main, Wiltshire on Market, and more. They’re also focusing intently on food rescue and feeding now, having spun off their housing and training operation in the Arthur Street Hotel as a separate nonprofit. Now, Feed Louisville can focus 100 percent on what its name implies: getting healthy, nutritious food into the hands of hungry people on the city's streets.

“We've been looking for a new kitchen for over a year,” Kamar told me as we toured the spacious new quarters in a red-brick industrial building. “It has been really challenging to find the perfect kitchen, and I'm so amazed and thankful that we found this kitchen.”

Over the past year, Kamar said, many people have asked if she’d looked at the old Dare to Care kitchen that Louisville’s food bank vacated when it moved to its own even larger kitchen several years ago. And every time, she said, 'I'm sure it's rented,’ and didn't bother. But finally, when one more person asked, she thought, “Why not?” She found the property manager and learned that the space was available.

“The doors keep opening; the path keeps clearing,” she said. “We keep getting these signals from the community that we’re doing something that needs to be done.”

With the help of a $200,000 grant that Feed Louisville received earlier this year from a private family trust, they were able to move right in without having to do a capital campaign; better still, they were able to use some of that money toward equipment and renovation.

All this gets done with the hard work of 17 full-time staff members, including the chefs, and plenty of help from volunteers. Currently, Feed Louisville gets help from at least 50 volunteers weekly, but Kamar and volunteer manager Sean “Koog” Koogan hope to see that number rise as the new space shapes up, allowing plenty of opportunity for more.

Feed Louisville co-founder Rhona Kamar and volunteer chef Koog (who goes by a shortened version of his last name) talk about the day's food rescue plan.
Feed Louisville co-founder Rhona Kamar and volunteer chef Koog (who goes by a shortened version of his last name) talk about the day's food rescue plan.

While the opportunity for growth is exciting, Kamar said, quality remains the key. “We are not trying to produce thousands of thousands of millions of millions of millions of meals. We will find our edge where we can keep our chefs close to the food. That's really important to us.

“The chefs being in the center of this work is what's unique about our model. … Our chefs do this work as a commitment. It’s a form of activism for them. We believe in feeding people, but staying close to the food is really important. When you start mass producing things, you lose out. You lose touch with the food.”

As Feed Louisville grows into its new space, they’ll expand their partnerships. “We know from our peers around the country doing the same thing that their models include multiple community partners. That's our goal as well. We have big dreams for what we want to do around hunger relief and food rescue,” she said.

For instance, a private donor’s $25,000 grant will be seed money to raise $100,000 to support West End neighborhood farmers to raise fresh and healthful produce for the community.

They’re also developing a food-as-medicine program, working with medical and nutrition experts to produce meals tailored to the health needs of houseless individuals with diabetes and other conditions requiring specialized nutrition.

On November 1, Feed Louisville will launch its annual fundraising campaign, and they hope to raise $500,000 for next year’s operations. Watch for details on their website and on Facebook.


Want to volunteer? Check out Feed Louisville’s volunteer opportunities and sign up on its online volunteer page.