A group of former employees have called out The Kitchen Inc. for alleged poor treatment by management leading to high turnover, and the nonprofit has responded in turn.
Springfield Business Journal has obtained a copy of a Nov. 18 letter sent to The Kitchen Inc. Board of Trustees and board President Ellen Hammock. Two-dozen former employees signed the letter addressed to officials with the nonprofit that works to support homeless people in the community.
"Those individuals who often apply for employment with a nonprofit, such as The Kitchen, have a desire to help others and right the wrongs they see within society. We feel that Kitchen management exploits employees with these values by paying them low wages and often making them complete work they were not hired to do," the letter reads. "Meanwhile, the CEO is given an inflated salary while those employees who actually work with the homeless are compensated with salaries that could often qualify them for government assistance."
In a statement provided to SBJ, officials with The Kitchen said they were unable "to comment on any previous employee relationships, including those that have not been part of the team for several months or years."
The statement points to a reaccreditation earlier this year by the Council on Accreditation, which reviewed CEO and management performance, financials, human resources policies, programming and board governance. In addition, The Kitchen worked with Community Foundation of the Ozarks Inc. this summer on a strategic planning process involving staff members and the board, according to the statement.
"TKI is committed to a community without homelessness. It takes a large team to accomplish this, both employed and volunteer, and TKI is blessed and lucky to have such dedicated and caring staff," the statement reads. "We hold our staff and programs to the highest standards and expect all to adhere to our core values of respect, dignity, quality, service and compassion."
The Kitchen was a finalist for 30-74 years in business for SBJ's 2022 Economic Impact Awards. The nonprofit reported 2021 revenue of $4 million and 40 employees, led by CEO Meleah Spencer.
The letter from the group of former employees alleges that in one two-year period, The Kitchen lost around 33 employees who either quit or were fired. The names of the impacted employees were not disclosed in the letter, though it pointed to a 2018 article from the Springfield News-Leader reporting on an employee exodus at Rare Breed, a youth services program operated by The Kitchen.
"This statistic shows an abysmal turnover rate of 82%, which we feel to be the direct result of poor management. Many of those who quit were good employees that cared deeply about the homeless population they served, but left due to an overtly hostile work environment," the letter reads. "Cycling employees through the organization at such a high rate ensures that the necessary experience needed to effectively do the job is never attained, thereby ensuring that the organization's best efforts towards ending homelessness will continue to be lacking."
The Springfield Daily Citizen was first to report on the news at The Kitchen.
Plans for the Finley Ridge apartment complex in the growing community of Ozark call for four buildings, four stories apiece, with 48 units each for a total of 192, as well as a 1,500-square-foot shared community and fitness room.