35 Years of Love in the Kitchen

The story of The Love Kitchen started when twins Helen and Ellen were born in Abbeville, South Carolina in 1928.

Their parents were sharecroppers and from an early age, the sisters not only had chores to do at home, but they also cleaned and cooked in the house of the property owner on whose land they lived. This attitude of hard work stayed with them throughout their lives.

The sisters progressed through school and upon graduating, their parents gave them a surprise gift; bus tickets to Knoxville, Tennessee so they could continue their education at Knoxville College.

After earning their nursing certifications and graduating, the sisters started working at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville.

All throughout her days of working at the hospital, Helen would frequently see indigent patients coming to the Emergency Room and while waiting to see a doctor, they would oftentimes be hungry but not have enough money to purchase food at the hospital cafeteria nor even from the vending machines.

On her breaks, Helen would go to the cafeteria and using her own money, purchase food for the families waiting on medical care in the ER waiting room.

After retiring, Helen and Ellen decided to carry this effort into their community by opening “The Love Kitchen” as a place where anyone and everyone could come and receive food.

The sisters served their first meals to 22 people on February 14, 1986 in a church basement located on Parkview Avenue in east Knoxville. From there, they served out of various houses in the neighborhood and even at one point, from the trunk of their car. The sisters’ “will do” attitude ensured that the hungry of their community were fed every week.

In 1991, the owners of Coleman Printing Company offered to sell the sisters their building on Martin Luther King Avenue for $1 as they were moving operations to a new location on Broadway.

The sisters agreed and with some generous donations from patrons, the Love Kitchen received and renovated a permanent location just around the corner from the church where they began five years earlier.

Over the years, the sisters have been featured on many local and national newscasts and programs including the “Oprah Winfrey Show”.

Their dedicated work even attracted the attention of producers of the reality show “Secret Millionaire”. Drawn by the lovable personality of Helen and Ellen, they picked the Love Kitchen episode as their pilot broadcast and it remains their highest-rated episode of the three seasons in which the series ran in the United States.

Unfortunately, the inevitability of time resulted in Ellen Turner passing away on April 22, 2015 followed by her sister Helen Ashe on February 13, 2018. Even though both sisters are no longer with us at The Love Kitchen, their spirit lives on through the dedicated volunteers who keep their mission alive and well every day.

Combined with the support of the community, both local and even worldwide, The Love Kitchen continues to march into the future, feeding those who are hungry, comforting those who are hurting, and spreading the message of Helen and Ellen that “Everybody is God’s Somebody”.