Army Veteran Opens Community Kitchen to Continue Passion for Serving
A brown paper bag holding a cup of soup and a sandwich – that’s what ignited a passion for service in Mercedes Kirkland-Doyle, the founder and executive director of The Good News Community Kitchen (TGNCK). The mission of Kirkland-Doyle’s foundation is to provide community members needing support with ready-to-eat meals and other essentials. Food insecurity remains a top issue among veterans and military families, so a significant portion of TGNCK’s patrons are current and former service members in Northern Virginia and the Washington, D.C. metro. The Bob Woodruff Foundation in partnership with Craig Newmark Philanthropies invested $15,000 through TGNCK in 2022 to support veterans facing food insecurity.
“As a kid, part of my confirmation at my church youth group was to work in the soup kitchen,” she shares in a conversation with the Bob Woodruff Foundation. One day, another group member asked Mercedes to fill in serving food while they took a break – and everything changed for Kirkland-Doyle when she served a girl, only a few years younger than she was.
“I guess I was naïve because I didn’t think there were other little kids struggling. I didn’t know there were little girls who were living on the street. I never had to stand in line to get food.” However, raised in South Carolina, mostly by her grandparents, Kirkland-Doyle experienced her own hardships, which is why she saw some of herself in the girl standing in front of her. Kirkland-Doyle will never forget the transformative feeling of ensuring the child was fed for the day.
“I remember seeing her face, and she was just so excited,” Kirkland-Doyle tells us with a smile. “I was so sad that we didn’t have any snacks, or treats, or anything else to add. But she was just so happy, and that created a feeling inside me that I’ve been chasing ever since.”
Random Acts of Kindness
After high school, Kirkland-Doyle had two reasons for enlisting in the Army: opportunity and experience. After being denied financial aid for college, she discussed her options with an Army recruiter. The recruiter explained that joining the Regular Army instead of the Reserve would be the best option for achieving her goal of earning a college degree. Enlisting turned out to be one of the best decisions she could have made.
“My blood is green,” she says warmly, remembering her service. “I met the most amazing senior leaders who developed me into the leader that I am. I only have great memories.”
Kirkland-Doyle shares one such memory, which, perhaps unsurprisingly, shows her gratitude through food.
“I wanted to do something for my drill sergeants to show I appreciated them,” she tells us. “I decided to stop at Burger King and ended up buying about twenty cheeseburgers. I handed them out to all these drill sergeants and that was such a happy moment because of their facial expressions. They were so happy to get those cheeseburgers.”
Serving (Food) After Service
Today, Kirkland-Doyle still goes the extra mile to make sure her fellow veterans are well-fed and cared for. TGNCK offers free, easy-to-prepare meals and rations known as emergency meal units to any veteran experiencing food insecurity.
Recently a veteran from Virginia Beach contacted the organization. He was in a desperate situation: the man was staying at a hotel to avoid homelessness and needed food. Even though Virginia Beach is outside of their regular service area, Kirkland-Doyle immediately contacted a supermarket in Virginia Beach to buy food for the veteran.
“He hadn’t eaten in three days,” she recalls. “The food order wasn’t going to be ready until the next day. The store manager told me he’d buy the veteran some food and deliver it while the order was being processed. So just by telling this story, the manager made sure that veteran was fed for the night.”
The veteran picked up the food order the following day, but still needed money while waiting for his benefits checks to arrive. Not satisfied with more waiting, Kirkland-Doyle sent him money through PayPal, giving him a financial cushion. Finally, his benefits came through and the veteran left the hotel to travel and be with family.
Kirkland-Doyle urges all veterans and service members to always reach out when they need support, reminding them never to hesitate asking for help. “Do not care about what people will think of you. I would encourage my fellow veterans and service members to take advantage of all opportunities. And if it requires contacting someone miles away for emergency food, do it.”
Visit tgnck.org for more information on The Good News Community Kitchen.