WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA9) --- In one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the District, there is an organization helping people meet their basic needs. Surrounded by the Watergate Hotel and The Kennedy Center is Miriam's Kitchen. The non-profit organization strives to end long-term homelessness with one meal at a time.
"The biggest thing I learned, it built my self-esteem, my confidence, self-image."
James Maphis, 55, took the first step toward improving his life after dining at Miriam's Kitchen. The place serves as a safe haven for the District's homeless by providing them with meals, housing and health support. Maphis entered its doors in Foggy Bottom 17 years ago. He was able to obtain food, an identification card and clean clothes.
"Yes, I would probably be, probably somewhere looking terrible, bummy, smelly, and stuff like that," Maphis admitted.
Miriam's Kitchen serves a healthy breakfast and dinner on the weekdays. On Wednesdays, clients get a light lunch and time to socialize.
Case managers use meal time as a chance to talk with the clients. The organization believes a meal gives people the opportunity to relax.
"It's incredibly important to break the ice with people. A lot of the folks who come in as you can well imagine, having lived out on the streets, may not be trustful, may not really want to have a conversation with someone. And so having a friendly face and a demeanor that invites conversation is really important. And that's what our case managers are trained to do," explained CEO Scott Schenkelberg.
Maphis has reaped emotional and health benefits after becoming a willing participant of the case management program.
"It made me start feeling better about myself... I started talking to people and people was helping me. You know. [As] long as I don't talk with people... no, help won't come...You need to open up and tell people" said Maphis.
Case managers engage the clients to talk about their needs including mental health and physical exams.
"It led me to find out that I had prostate cancer. You know, because I was, I had it and didn't even know it. I was just out here on the streets lying around with it," Maphis expressed. He added his illness is in remission for two years.
Conversations with the case managers have lifted Maphis' spirits.
"Oh I love it. I mean, you know, someone coming to speak to me and talk with me...makes me feel good inside," he said.
Most of the produce comes from donations by area farmers markets and grocery stores. Miriam's Kitchen buys the rest of the food.
A steady stream of volunteers help to prepare meals. The food not only nourishes the body but also gets the clients to come back.
"I would give my life for the caseworkers at Miriam's Kitchen. They saved my life many a times, me having seizures the way I do," said Randy Pressley as he eats lunch with Maphis.
Miriam's Kitchen serves about 4,500 people throughout the year.
NOTE: Gannett Foundation has provided a grant to Miriam's Kitchen.
Produced by: Elizabeth Jia
WUSA9 & WUSA9.com