WASHINGTON – By 7:30 a.m. breakfast at Miriam’s Kitchen is almost over.
The meal officially starts at 7, but hungry people begin at 6:30 to mill around the entrance to this soup kitchen in the basement of Western Presbyterian Church on 24th St., N.W.
On this fall morning, the menu includes hashbrowns, cabbage, fruit and Cheerios.
About 150 poor and homeless people supplement their diets here each weekday morning. Food stamps, if the homeless can provide a mailing address to receive them, aren’t enough.
And on Jan. 1, many stand to lose the public food assistance they get now.
Welfare reform restricts childless adults ages 18-50 to three months of food stamps over three years, unless they work a minimum of 20 hours each week. If laid off, they may get another three months.
Because most diners at Miriam’s Kitchen don’t work and may not get a job by the beginning of 1997, the soup kitchen’s operators expect an increase in numbers of hungry people whose food stamps have expired.
“The elimination of food stamps is a serious problem and the kitchen program is where we’ll see the most impact in light of welfare reform,” says John Wimberly, pastor of Western Presbyterian, which also operates a ministry for prostitutes and an after-school art program for D.C. public school students.
“Would people rather have hungry people in the streets or people who have been fed?” Wimberly asks.
“It’s common sense to assume if people can’t get money from food stamps to feed themselves they’ll resort to other means. It’s probably going to create more crime.”
But many people eating breakfast said they didn’t know anything about reduced or eliminated food stamps.
“What?” asks Michael Gore, 42, his eyes huge behind tortoise-shell glasses. “You mean I’m not even going to get my $16 a month?”
Gore, who came from Hinton, W.V., to the district when he was 17, says he has been homeless for two years. He would work, he says, but doesn’t know what he could do.
“I’m not very strong, so I don’t think I could do heavy work,” says the slender Gore.
Laura Willis, director of Miriam’s Kitchen since July, says it’s unlikely anyone in the breakfast crowd will try to find work to keep their food stamps from running out.
Willis says she can’t think of any regulars who have gotten a job and gotten off the street.
“It takes so long for people to want to change and actually change. It’s a scary process for people to go through,” Willis says.
She is concerned about the kitchen’s ability to serve more hungry people. “If the numbers of hungry people increase, I hope we can continue to provide the same quality to them that we do now — a safe, warm and accepting environment,” Willis says. -30-