Today, the result of that calling can be seen at the Kitchen of Hope, which she founded 20 years ago. The volunteer-run organization has provided thousands of free meals over the years to the homeless and others in need, an accomplishment that continues to make Swagerty proud.
“We’re supposed to help one another. … If you love God the right way, you’ll want to help somebody,” Swagerty said.
Then and now
The Kitchen of Hope stems from humble beginnings. Many years ago, Swagerty started a church in the back of her home and began feeding people in her backyard, though there wasn’t a lot of space and it wasn’t ideal during cold weather.
The mission expanded after Swagerty purchased Full Gospel Mission Church, where she serves as pastor. She and her family members started feeding people in the church basement, where the kitchen still operates today.
As more and more people learned about the kitchen, Swagerty realized she needed help to keep the effort going. She and a group of her volunteers formed a board of directors, which oversees the administrative duties and volunteer coordination.
How it works
The Kitchen of Hope serves meals Monday through Saturday from 3:30-5 p.m. each day. Charlene Harris, director of the Kitchen of Hope board, said the meals are totally free; patrons simply need to sign in and be respectful of volunteers and other diners.
The meals are prepared by volunteer teams from churches and other organizations in the region. The teams select their own menus and are typically responsible for cooking one meal a month.
On average, the organization serves well over 2,000 people each month and around 30,000 a year. Harris said people often line up outside the doors around 3 p.m., waiting for what could be their only hot meal of the day.
“It’s just a very interesting place,” Harris said. “There are people that come here who are clearly homeless, clearly have substance abuse problems, and there are people that come here who are … maybe just having a bad month.”
Harris said the Kitchen of Hope is always in need of donated food or money. The organization has no permanent funding stream, meaning it depends on donations to stay afloat.
“Sometimes we get down to where we’re just scraping the bottom of the barrel. Sometimes we have a little windfall … but the Lord seems to always provide,” Harris said. “When we get down to where we think we’re not going to be able to stay open, we usually then start getting donations. It’s just been a very cool thing.”
Donations of food can be dropped off at the kitchen, located at 740 E. Sevier Ave., during operating hours. Monetary donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 3112, Kingsport, TN 37664.