St. Matthew’s House, donors and friends gathered at St. Matthew’s House on October 21 to commemorate the opening of LuLu’s Kitchen— an 8,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility that will serve as the new home for St. Matthew’s House restaurant and catering operations and much more. LuLu’s Kitchen is located on the St. Matthew’s House Naples’ campus at 2125 Airport Road South.

LuLu’s Kitchen was made possible by a major gift from long-time St. Matthew’s House supporter The Holecek Family Foundation. “Lulu’s Kitchen is a dream realized. This generous gift is the answer to prayers,” says St. Matthew’s House President and CEO Vann Ellison. Project architect is Ted Sottong, RA, of Liberating Vision Design, LLC, engineering firm is GradyMinor, and building contractor is Connor & Gaskins Unlimited, LLC.

The opening of LuLu’s Kitchen brings all of the St. Matthew’s House culinary operations under one roof. The facility includes a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen, open-to-the-public Fresh Start Café that seats 65 diners for breakfast and lunch service, and a drive-thru window serving hand-crafted coffees and limited food selections. In addition, it houses the St. Matthew’s House Delicious by Design catering operation and Culinary Training Institute of Southwest Florida.

Fresh Start Café and drive-thru window are open Monday through Saturday. Drive-thru window hours are 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Fresh Start Café is open for breakfast and lunch service 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“This new facility makes it possible to significantly accelerate our catering services and culinary training program for those we serve in our shelters and recovery programs,” says Reverend Ellison. “Our culinary training program provides job training, and prepares students to find opportunities in the hospitality and food service industry. More than 220 of our residents have graduated from this program with many taking positions in local restaurants and other food service businesses.”

Lulu’s Kitchen greatly enhances St. Matthew’s House capacity for service, and, with the addition of Fresh Start Café, it also significantly expands the St. Matthew’s House social enterprise program. This innovative social enterprise program includes six thrift stores, a car wash and detailing center, Delicious by Design Catering, Sprout Catering, and the Port LaBelle Inn & Retreat Center.

These social enterprises provide job training and employment for St. Matthew’s House residents, and generate nearly 70 percent of the funds needed for St. Matthew’s House operations. This means that 100 percent of every donation goes directly to St. Matthew’s House programs that provide housing for the homeless, food for the hungry and comfort for the addicted and suffering.

For over 30 years, St. Matthew’s House has provided innovative solutions to fight homelessness, hunger, substance abuse, and poverty in Southwest Florida. As a result of the loss of jobs and other economic impacts of COVID-19, the numbers of those seeking help to provide for the most basic needs of food and shelter is growing exponentially at this time. St. Matthew’s House is currently providing food relief to between 2,000 and 2,500 families weekly, and sheltering more than 300 men, women and children every night in the organization’s homeless shelters.

Donations of canned goods and food staples such as rice, beans, pasta and other basics are needed. Monetary donations and donations of gently used furnishings, housewares and clothing for St. Matthew’s House thrift stores also are welcome. Curbside drop off is available at all St. Matthew’s House Thrift Store locations in Naples, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers and Immokalee. Thrift Store hours are Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

St. Matthew’s House is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that does not rely on government funding. For information, visit stmatthewshouse.org or call (239) 774-0500.