Our mission, service & history

Our Mission:

To help alleviate hunger in our community by serving the poor in an environment of respect, care and hospitality.  We call the people we serve our guests, because we want them to feel welcomed and to maintain their dignity during what is a trying time in their lives.

“There are many reasons why people are caught in the trap of extreme poverty …while we are looking for answers, we can all do our part to alleviate some of the suffering.” — Reverend Thomas Bokenkotter

Our Service:

The people we serve consist of disadvantaged people who lack the financial means, the mental capacity, the housing, and/or the life skills to provide themselves with a hot, nutritious meal.

Among our guests, we see the mentally ill, the elderly poor, the unemployed, the working poor, the underemployed and the homeless. Through our services and your support, we seek to meet their basic needs for food and water and improve their quality of life.

Every day after we bless our food, we thank our Guests for visiting the Kitchens and Pantry. Inevitably, their response rings throughout the room: “No, thank YOU for being here.”

Our History:

The Reverend Thomas Bokenkotter is founder of 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 after Fr. Bokenkotter returned from a visit to Dorothy Day’s House of Hospitality in New York City. Seeing the poor people lined up for meals, Fr. Bokenkotter wondered whether anything like it existed in Cincinnati. On his return, he consulted with social service agencies in Cincinnati and discovered there was a need for such a program – there was only one soup kitchen in Cincinnati which combined a free meal with an obligatory religious service.

Fr. Bokenkotter felt there was room for another type of program since 80% of the 10,000 residents in Over-the-Rhine were living below the poverty level.

Fr. Bokenkotter recruited volunteers and with just $700 he started serving warm meals in a building on Main Street. At first the meals were cooked in the St. Gregory Seminary kitchen where Fr. Bokenkotter was a professor. Word spread and soon hundreds were lining up daily for a warm meal. Over the ensuing years the kitchen moved several times before settling into its current location at 1620 Vine Street, right in the heart of Over-The-Rhine in 2003. In the meantime, a second location, the Walnut Hills Kitchen, opened in 1984 by Fr. Tom Bokenkotter. It is located in the basement of The Tom Geiger Guest House. Residents of The Tom Geiger Guest House and its affiliate, The Gertrude House, benefit from services of the Walnut Hills Kitchen.

Which brings us to another important person in the history of our organization — a young man named Tom Geiger. Tom was a student of Fr. Bokenkotter’s. He listened intently to Fr. Bokenkotter’s description of his experience with the poor and was touched by what he heard. He volunteered to help with the opening of 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. Fr. Bokenkotter often tells how the funeral procession from the church to the Kitchen, where the meal of mercy was held, was filled with the people Tom had served. Tom was a great role model for us all. The Tom Geiger Guest House, a residence for abused women and children on Gilbert Avenue, was named for him to honor his memory.

Fr. Bokenkotter has often reflected on the plight of our guests. He has stated that there are many reasons why people are caught in the trap of extreme poverty. However, while we are looking for answers, we can all do our part to alleviate some of the suffering.

This thought is what inspires us to continue our work at the Over-The-Rhine Kitchen, the Walnut Hills Kitchen and the Walnut Hills Pantry.