The History of
Wilhelmina "Willa" Gill was an employee of Catholic Social Service before becoming the Director of Emergency Assistance Services for Wyandotte County in Kansas. Through the Emergency Assistance Program, which only had two staff members, the program helped over 300 people in the Kansas City area.
Shortly after attending a conference in the early 1980s, Gill approached former executive director of Catholic Social Services, Louis Finocchario, to discuss pursuing a ministry of both nourishment and fellowship in Kansas City, Kansas.
Gill, who along with St. Peter Cathedral, Holy Name, Our Lady & St. Rose and Blessed Sacrament parishes made up the Social Concerns Group, then called on Father Raymond Davern and Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker to explore the idea of working from the basement of St. Mary Church, located at 5th and Ann Ave. in Kansas City, Kansas.
A deal was struck. And as long as Gill and the Social Concerns Group could pay the utilities, the rent at St. Mary was free. The food kitchen served its first meal on February 8, 1982, feeding 11 hungry people.
To legally become a non-profit organization, St. Mary's Food Kitchen had to choose a secular name; so it became Hot Lunch Service, Inc., though the community still knows it as St. Mary's. The organization remained in the basement of St. Mary's until May 16, 1997 when it outgrew the available space. Mayor Joseph Steineger contacted United States Senator Bob Dole to secure funding to move Hot Lunch Services into it's new location.
Forty years later, with the help of nearly 40 Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal and Christian churches and synagogues, St. Mary’s Food Kitchen is still making a difference in the lives of the local hungry population. Instead of serving fewer than a dozen people, the kitchen now feeds as many as 250 to 1,300 hungry residents on any given day. Although Hot Lunch Service, Inc. is now located in the Wilhelmina Gill Multi-Service Center, it is still referred to as St. Mary’s Food Kitchen.