Kristen Allcorn, 18, of Sedalia, Mo., a senior at Smith-Cotton High School, founded The Community Caf, a table-service soup kitchen that has served more than 12,000 meals to needy residents since December 2006. While volunteering several times at a soup kitchen in Kansas City, "I fell in love with the idea of helping others through serving food," said Kristen. "It is such a practical way to meet the tangible needs of people." She began looking for similar volunteer opportunities closer to home, but couldn't find any program that offered a free hot meal to the needy on a consistent basis. So she decided to start her own.
First, Kristen persuaded a building owner in town to donate space for her caf. She then worked closely with the Central Missouri Food Bank to secure a steady supply of food donations. Kristen recruited volunteers from her school's National Honor Society chapter and local civic organizations to prepare and serve the meals, and to clean up afterwards. As executive director, Kristen organizes food donations, plans meals, schedules and directs volunteers, registers diners, serves food, handles a great deal of administrative paperwork, and runs monthly board meetings. Today, The Community Caf provides a hot evening meal to about 60 people five days a week, serving them at tables as if they were eating in a restaurant. "I walk away from The Community Caf everyday with a sense of accomplishment," said Kristen.