ATLANTA - The beds are warm in the homeless shelter at Peachtree and Pine Streets, but dinner often is another matter.
The midtown Atlanta shelter - among the state's largest - has lacked a kitchen or even a microwave oven to cook meals, depending instead on local churches to prepare, store and transport enough food to feed the nearly 1,000 people it serves daily.
Friday, the shelter dedicated 'Feast,' a kitchen and dining room that will enable shelter volunteers to prepare food on site and serve it in a family style environment. The setting, they say, can help calm folks who are frazzled by life on the streets.
'We've worked for years to develop this kitchen, and to have a pleasant and healthful place for people to eat,' said Anita Beaty, executive director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, which runs the shelter.
The dining room will hold 30 tables. Beaty envisions it doubling as a venue for movies and other entertainment for shelter guests.
The kitchen also will serve as a training ground for homeless volunteers looking for a new vocation.
'The men who are living here will be able to get training in food preparation, menu planning and culinary arts,' said Beaty, who is in talks with area culinary centers to establish a training program.
Food will come from local food banks. Beaty said a rooftop garden eventually will provide fresh herbs for hearty meals.
The shelter has relied on a network of 39 congregations to bring food, cooking it off site and using food warmers to keep soups steaming and casseroles bubbling until meal time.
That resulted in a lot of lukewarm food, Beaty admitted. With no tables, meanwhile, shelter guests have had to improvise, eating from plates balanced on their laps, she said.
'This space is gonna provide community eating, where people sit around tables and have relationships,' Beaty said.
Friday night, corporate types in button-down shirts and ties munched barbecued beef tips, green beans and pink lemonade at tables with folks like Julius Woodward.
The Chicago native has lived at the shelter on and off for five years. He's waited a long time for a place to have a real dinner.
'It's been a slow process,' he said. 'But if you put forth the effort, it will be accomplished.'
The eat-in space is part of a $13 million renovation at the 95,000-square-foot center, which houses many homeless people who can't find shelter elsewhere in the city.
Master plans for the renovation call for the finished four-story building to feature a street-level cafe, rooftop greenspace and an added floor with housing.
The task force is still raising money for parts of the renovation. The kitchen, for instance, awaits a stove, kettles and other cooking basics.
But it's a promise of added convenience for folks like Allene McCollum, who helps coordinate the weekly food drops from Cascade United Methodist Church, which has helped the shelter for the past decade.
The church on the south side of Atlanta transports food 20 miles to the shelter every Thursday.