Thelma’s Kitchen provides an inclusive environment for the community

Kansas City’s first pay what you can kitchen on Troost, offers service to people from all backgrounds.

Kendall Lanier

More stories from Kendall Lanier

The window shades to Thelma’s Kitchen are opened Sept. 6. Thelma’s is located at the corner of 39th and Troost, with a RideKC bus station right outside provides easy access to the by Mckenzie Heffron

As you walk into Thelma’s Kitchen you instantly feel the sense of a warm, welcoming community as you are greeted by a volunteer. When you walk toward the back to order a meal, the volunteers’ and workers’ faces are grinning from ear to ear, showing they enjoy what they are doing, despite the chaos of the lunchtime rush. Kansas City’s first “pay what you can” restaurant sits just off of Troost, on E. 31st St. and opened in the beginning of July. Customers have the option to volunteer for half an hour in exchange for a meal or  donate whatever they can.

Pamela Infranca, the Chef and Food Programs Manager assisted with the set up of Thelma’s Kitchen. She has been working in the restaurant business for 15 years and has a passion for cooking.

“[People paying the recommended amount] is getting a lot better,” Infranca said. “It has been a process of educating people that they should pay at least a small amount.”

Thelma’s has the ability to be a “pay what you can” kitchen because of two large grants they have received.

“We need people with means, just as much as people without,”  Infranca said.

In the past Reconciliation Services, a charity next door, served free dinner on Fridays where Thelma’s is now. Ms. Thelma and her husband opened Reconciliation 30 years ago.  A volunteer greeter Donald, who only shared his first name, has worked in the non-profit business for many years.

“It’s different than a homeless kitchen, where you would get a free meal that is the same thing everyday,” Donald said. “Here, you get to have a choice of what you want to eat.”

Donald’s main job is to make sure business runs smoothly and there is no commotion.

“I try to make it safe for everyone,” Donald said. “There’s no sense in coming here if you are unhappy and uncomfortable.”

Donald spends a large amount of time at Thelma’s kitchen because of his desire to help others.

“I’ve always been a people person,” Donald said. “It’s all about seeing the smile on peoples faces.”

According to Donald, the volunteers and workers at Thelma’s kitchen are a large part of what makes Thelma’s feel so inclusive.

“It’s all about showing your appreciation for other people,” Donald said. “God put me here to do something good, this is my mission.”

Frequent volunteer, 23-year-old Jeremiah Daniels has nothing negative to say about the new kitchen. Daniels usually works to keep the place clean and although it is located in the city, he believes it is important to keep it presentable.

“The food is nutritious and is always cooked to perfection,” Daniels said. “It is open to everyone, rich or poor, which is part of what makes it so great.”

Thelma’s has hosted people from all over Kansas City from all different backgrounds according to Daniels.

“It’s about bringing the community together. It gives them a chance to see that people who are doing bad, are not bad people. Some of the smartest and nicest people I know are homeless” Donald said.

The intricate art on the walls of Thelma’s Kitchen creates a unique culture. A painting of Ms. Thelma and a painting of two shaking hands, one black and one white, were moved from outside of the building to the inside to bring the kitchen to life.

“[The artwork] really just represents Troost. It shows the desire to bring everyone together no matter who you are, which is what Thelma’s Kitchen is all about,” Infranca said.

Daniels never sees the “pay what you can” aspect of the kitchen going away.

“It doesn’t cost anything but to be a decent person” Daniels said.