Steve Badt, chef to the homeless
Steve Badt, chef to the homeless

More than 36 million Americans are affected by hunger. The U.S. Agriculture Department says that is up by more than 40 percent since 2000. Many of them are the nation's homeless. Over the last year, charities that care for homeless men and women have seen a rise in the number of people in need amid the nation's economic turmoil.

As part of our weekly series, Making a Difference, we focuse on the chef who runs a soup kitchen in the nation's capital with a unique approach to feeding the homeless.

Steve Badt starts work early.  While most of the nation's capital sleeps, this professional chef prepares for a breakfast crowd of more than 200.

Badt's galley is not for the rich and powerful.

He left the city's restaurant scene seven years ago for a Masters degree in non-profit management to do something different with his life.  His clientele now are those who have no place to live.

Western Presbyterian Church is home to the non-profit Miriam's Kitchen which has served breakfast to Washington, DC's homeless for more than 25 years. Badt's professional colleagues now include more than 1,000 people who volunteer every year.

"At seven o'clock we will open up the hot line and that is what everyone is working on,” Badt explains of the activity in the kitchen. “These guys over here are cracking eggs, preparing to do scrambled eggs. We are making biscuits here. These are cream biscuits. Another volunteer on the griddle with ham. We have home fries over there going on. And a fruit salad over here. Our goal is, by 7 am, to have all this ready to go to serve a hot meal."

For the volunteers who log nearly 15,000 hours a year, it is not easy work.  But that is why Badt thinks people keep coming back. He has a waiting list of willing workers.

"I wanted to change the way a soup kitchen operates, meaning to run it with a lot more adrenaline, challenge,” says Badt. “I was trained in high-end restaurants, and in high-end restaurants there is always this adrenaline running, there is always this challenge, but as employees at a restaurant like that you felt great about what you were doing. So could I transfer that type of atmosphere to a soup kitchen with volunteers?"

When breakfast is served, there is no shortage of reviews.

The chef tells us, "Seeing them every day in the morning and having them come up to me and going, 'Oh, that was a great meal.' That feels pretty good. Once in a while they will go, 'That was a great meal, but those biscuits, ehhh.'  So they are pretty blunt with their criticism. But I like that. I like opinionated customers, just like in the restaurants."

Homeless men and women can seek counseling here and get help in finding a place to live.

But case workers at Miriam's Kitchen say what the city's homeless line up for is Steve Badt's hot breakfast.