The History of
St. Mary's Food Kitchen
& the Wilhelmina Gill Service Center
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.
After attending a conference, Willa approached Mr. Louis Finocchario, former Executive Director of Catholic Social Services, with her idea of starting a Casserole Meal and got permission to pursue this spirit-led ministry.
Willa worked with with The Social Concerns Group, comprised of parishioners from four inner-city churches: St. Peter's Cathedral, Holy Name Parish, Our Lady-St. Rose, and Blessed Sacrament. Together members of the Social Concerns Group hosted their first "Casserole Meal" and fed 11 hungry people.
Needing a space to host future Casserole Meals, Willa met with Fr. Raymond Davern and Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker to use the basement of the historically marked St. Mary's Catholic Church. If the Social Concerns Group paid for utilities, rent would be free. It served its first daily meal on February 11, 1982.
To legally become a non-profit organization, St. Mary's Food Kitchen had to choose a secular name; so it became Hot Lunch Services, 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.
The Hot Lunch Service, Inc. board of directors worked with the Honorable Archbishop James P. Keleher and the new Mayor & CEO Carol Marinovich to jointly fashion a letter of request to Catholic Community Services that this new facility be appropriately and honorably named the Wilhelmina Gill Service Center after the woman who started it all.