In the heart of Knoxville, Tennessee, there exists a place where no one goes hungry, a place where love knows no bounds, a place that has become a haven of warmth, generosity and compassion for so many people, a place called The Love Kitchen.

Founded by twin sisters Helen Ashe and Ellen Turner on Valentine’s Day in 1986, The Love Kitchen has been providing meals and necessary supplies to the homebound, homeless and unemployed people of all races and faiths in the Knoxville area for nearly 40 years. It all started simply because the sisters wanted to help people and make a difference.


Knoxville’s Grandmothers

Helen and Ellen had a heart for the people of Knoxville. They knew and loved everyone, and everyone knew and loved them.

“They were like your grandmothers,” said Martin Riggins, executive director of The Love Kitchen. “They wanted to share food and share love with everyone that they could.”

Before The Love Kitchen, the twins worked as nurses in Knoxville. During this time, Helen often noticed that some patients could not afford food while waiting to see a doctor, so she bought them food with money out of her own pocket. This continued through the years, and after the twins retired Helen came up with the idea of starting a volunteer-run soup kitchen.

“It got to the point where Ellen finally said, ‘Stop talking about it and just do it,’ and so they did,” said Riggins.

After multiple decades of serving the Knoxville community, the sisters knew they were not going to live forever, so they made Riggins’ brother Patrick, a longtime Love Kitchen volunteer, promise he would keep it going after they passed. Ellen died in 2015 and Helen in 2018. Patrick took over until he unexpectedly died in 2021. This is where Riggins comes in.

“I’m going to carry on his promise to the sisters for him because Patrick and I were very close,” said Riggins. “He was my brother, but he was also my friend, and so I will always be here to do the best I can for this place.”

Photo: Ellen and Helen with Patrick Riggins


Labor of the Heart

About 85 percent of what The Love Kitchen does is food delivery. Every Thursday, the kitchen’s drivers will deliver seven meals to 300 households across the Knoxville area. The kitchen also serves lunch on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 12:30 p.m., and that’s to anybody who shows up. No questions asked.

“The amount of people that we see, feed and our numbers throughout the years have just continually gone up and up and up,” said Faith Cline, The Love Kitchen’s chef. “It’s just so needed, especially for people that are on the margin where maybe they don’t get food stamps, they’re out there working, they’re doing their best to survive and make ends meet, but maybe they just don’t quite make enough.”

Between both deliveries and those who show up for lunch on Wednesdays and Thursdays, The Love Kitchen serves more than 3,000 meals per week. The kitchen’s menu is based on donations it receives.

“I’d say 90 percent of the food we prepare and serve here is from Costco donations,” said Riggins. “Chef Faith just takes the stuff and makes a brand-new meal out of it. It’s incredible what she does, and her food is really, really good.”

For Chef Faith, her job at The Love Kitchen hits close to home.

“I did not grow up with a lot, and so I take it really personal because of that,” said Chef Faith. “I know what it’s like to be hungry. I know what it’s like not to have things that you need for necessities, so it is a labor of the heart for me to be here and do what I do and give back in that way.”

“…it is a labor of the heart for me to be here and do what I do and give back in that way.”

Faith Cline, Chef, The Love Kitchen


Everybody is God’s Somebody

Currently, there are only three people on staff at The Love Kitchen, so volunteers are a crucial part to the success of its day-to-day operations.

“The sisters said it best, ‘Everybody is God’s somebody,’” said Chef Faith. “That is what a lot of our volunteers hold to. It doesn’t matter who you are, what walk of life you’re from, we try to be welcoming to everybody, and we try to get you what you need, even if it’s not food.”

Riggins always reminds the volunteers of the impact they have on the Knoxville community.

“You’re making a difference, and you can see the difference you make when you walk out there and you hand somebody a meal that they would not have otherwise had, whether it’s delivering to them or whether it is somebody here for lunch,” said Riggins. “You know that what you do matters.”

To learn more about The Love Kitchen, visit

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