Knoxville, Tennessee (CNN) — Helen Ashe experienced many hardships growing up in Abbeville, South Carolina, during the 1930s and ’40s. Her family’s first house had no lights or running water.
But even during tough times, she and her twin sister, Ellen, were taught to be selfless.
“My daddy taught us not to take the last piece of bread from the table; somebody may come by that’s hungry,” Ashe remembered.
Since 1986, Ashe has been leaving a whole lot more than bread on the table.
As the founder of the Love Kitchen in Knoxville, Tennessee, she has helped serve more than 1 million free meals to those in need.
Aided by her sister and a team of volunteers, Ashe serves those whom she calls the five Hs: the hungry, the homeless, the helpless, the hopeless and the homebound.
“We have so many people that are in need,” said Ashe, 83. “That’s what keeps us going.”
The Love Kitchen prepares and distributes about 2,000 meals a week from a large community center that’s equipped with a restaurant-style kitchen.
On Wednesdays and Thursdays, the Love Kitchen serves a lunchtime meal where everyone is welcome. Hundreds often dine in, but the majority of meals — 1,500 on average — are delivered to Knoxville residents who cannot physically leave their homes. Many of these people are elderly and suffer from debilitating illnesses or diseases.
“Each week, we get a list of people that are either hospitalized, too old to come in to eat, or homebound,” volunteer James O’Hare said. “Then on Thursday, they take a stack of these seven meals, and the volunteers deliver to that person.”
Each takeout box has an entrée, a vegetable, bread and dessert so recipients receive well-rounded meals for a whole week. But they also get much more.
“It feeds their body, and it also feeds their soul,” O’Hare said. “They have somebody that comes and talks to them, gives them some encouragement.”