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Meleah Spencer
Jym Wilson | SBJ
Meleah Spencer

2022 Economic Impact Awards Community Involvement Champion of the Year: Meleah Spencer, The Kitchen Inc.

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When Meleah Spencer was growing up on her family’s dairy farm, there were always a lot of people at the dinner table – her own family of three, plus the workers who lived on the farm.

“My parents were always cooking for someone,” she says.

Her family’s open table has informed Spencer’s own life of service as CEO of The Kitchen Inc., which has the mission of bringing stability and purpose to people who are homeless.

“I’m not a cook, but I can help in other ways,” Spencer says. 

The Kitchen was founded by Sister Lorraine Biebel in 1983. Spencer says she got to work alongside the founder, serving food at the Missouri Hotel as a high-schooler in 4-H. As the organization’s director for nearly five years, Spencer admits to feeling some wonder at having come full circle.

“It’s very surreal,” she says. “I pinch myself still that I’m trying to fill Sister’s shoes and lean into service.”

But Spencer says she feels right at home in her current role.

“It does feel good to be part of a team here that works together to help end homelessness in our community,” she says.

Spencer realizes just about anyone could find themselves in the same position as those people her organization serves.

“When I moved away from here, I quickly learned how expensive other places are,” she says. “I myself was living paycheck to paycheck, and the rent I was paying in southern California then was more than the mortgage I have now.”

There she was – college educated and with a good job, working for Hallmark and progressing in her career, but, as for so many others, an unexpected expense could bring it all toppling down.

There was a lesson in that, Spencer says – we’re all human, all with similar needs and desires.

“We are called to help and love one another, no matter who we are,” she says. “Jesus wasn’t hanging out with the rich or with people who’ve got it all together. He was hanging out with folks in need.”

The Kitchen serves others through programs that together housed 800 people in 2021, Spencer says.

Spencer has worked to forge stronger collaboration among the nonprofit’s foundation, board of trustees and staff through the annual Eyes in Disguise fundraiser. She has helped to provide 3,700 Christmas dinners at 27 locations in the Ozarks. And she has involved her staff and her board in adopting families for Christmas gift-giving.

Even so, Spencer says she feels she doesn’t deserve to be singled out for accolades.

“I don’t think I’m doing anything different than what anyone else is doing or what we’re called to do,” she says.

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