Dried mud flecked off people’s boots as they took the stairs to the second floor of a former high school in Whitesburg, where workers and volunteers have been serving free, hot meals for those impacted by the floods in eastern Kentucky.
CANE Kitchen has been serving people for three weeks, so early on in the catastrophe that the waters hadn’t even crested when they started. At least 39 people were killed in the historic floods, and people are still struggling to meet their basic needs.
Some who walked into the kitchen lost everything. Ryan Maxey and his family were stuck in their home for five days.
“The road to our driveway was like a canyon, all the water rushed down the roadways,” he said. “We had to chop down trees in like eight-foot sections then put dirt over them to get down the hill.”
Some have told board coordinator Valerie Horn they are living in tents, others have spent their days mucking out their homes and businesses. All who walk through the outfit’s doors are looking for some relief.
“Food is comfort to this community,” Horn said. “That is the way we show love and concern and care.”
CANE stands for Community Agricultural and Nutritional Enterprises. It began as a community action group, sustainable farm program and farmers market that has grown into a commercial kitchen.
As of Wednesday, Horn said volunteers had served more than 20,000 meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner — in the wake of the floods. Wednesday night the kitchen served styrofoam containers of breaded fish, pasta and hot rolls. There’s also coffee, pink lemonade and cookies.
Some days volunteers hand out green beans for people to string while they wait in line for something to eat.
“To do, just do that muscle exercise, bring back those good comfortable memories of stringing beans with your grandma on your front porch,” she said.
Horn said the kitchen served its first meal before noon on the first day of flooding, when residents at the Letcher Manor nursing home were evacuated into the building. It’s been open ever since.
The kitchen has turned into a distribution center of sorts with people dropping off and picking up supplies from bleach to baby food, and t-shirts to house plants. Horn didn’t intend for that to happen, but she couldn’t turn away the help either.
Horn said the kitchen has been blessed with support from groups including the LEE Initiative, a non-profit co-founded by Louisville Chef Edward Lee in 2018.
It’s clear people have been struggling, Horn said, but she hopes they find some comfort with a hot meal.
“We look at this kitchen as you would a kitchen in your home,” Horn said. “We want people to feel the same level of comfort and security and assurance that you hope everyone has in their home.”