Our mission & history

Our mission

To help alleviate hunger in our community in an environment of respect, care and hospitality.

How we came to be

The Reverend Thomas Bokenkotter founded the Over-The-Rhine Kitchen, the Oldest Soup Kitchen in Cincinnati, as well as the Walnut Hills Kitchen and the Walnut Hills Pantry.

Bokenkotter   Reverend Thomas Bokenkotter                             Our Founder

The Over-The-Rhine Kitchen was established in January of 1976. Fr. Bokenkotter visited Dorothy Day’s House of Hospitality in New York City and realized Cincinnati needed such a program, as there was only one soup kitchen in Cincinnati which combined a free meal with an obligatory religious service, and 80 percent of the 10,000 residents in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood lived below the poverty level.

Fr. Bokenkotter recruited volunteers and with just $700 he started serving meals in a building on Main Street. Word spread, and soon hundreds were lining up daily for a warm meal. Over the ensuing years the kitchen moved several times before settling, in 2003, into its current location at 1620 Vine Street, right in the heart of Over-The-Rhine. In the meantime, Fr. Bokenkotter opened a second location in Walnut Hills Kitchen in 1984.

The Walnut Hills Kitchen is housed in the Geiger House, a property named for a student of Fr. Bokenkotter’s. Geiger helped open the Over-The-Rhine Kitchen in 1976. Tom managed the Kitchen and developed its program, and because of his devotion to helping the poor and homeless he moved into the back room of the Kitchen to be available whenever someone needed him. At the age of 33, Tom Geiger died suddenly. His presence and contributions were truly missed, and the funeral procession from the church to the Kitchen, where the meal of mercy was held, was filled with those Tom had served. The Tom Geiger Guest House, a residence for abused women and children on Gilbert Avenue, which houses the Walnut Hills Soup Kitchen, was named to honor his memory.

Fr. Bokenkotter taught that there are many reasons people are caught in extreme poverty. However, while we are looking for answers, we can all do our part to alleviate some of the suffering. This reflection continues to inspire the work of the Over the Rhine and Walnut Hills Kitchens & Pantry today.