During the pandemic, everyone found their own way through. For Jessica Lowe, that meant bingeing cooking shows.

It wasn’t that she loved to cook. Making dinner every night for her family of seven wasn’t exactly her idea of nirvana.

But she enjoyed watching other people cook, and the more she watched shows like “Top Chef,” “The Great British Baking Show,” “Nailed It” and others, the more it inspired her to see if she could love cooking more.

In the fall of 2021, with the pandemic fading, she signed up for a three-month course at the Park City Culinary Institute in South Salt Lake.

Little realizing she was about to turn herself into a fixture in the Salt Lake homeless scene.

* * *

“It just blows my mind how far the ripples have reached, there’s no way to measure it, it’s crazy,” says Jessica as she reclines in a sofa at her Draper home. It’s Friday so she can afford to relax. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays she’s either shopping, cooking or delivering hot meals and sack lunches to people who live in tents and cardboard boxes and underpasses throughout the Salt Lake Valley.

She calls them her homies.

She feeds over 100 homies every Thursday, through the nonprofit she started: Be A Little Too Kind.

Be A Little Too Kind’s origins trace directly back to the cooking school. One day in October, shortly after she started, Jessica and a fellow student, Victoria Broughton, looked at the food left over from that day’s cooking and decided to rescue it from its usual destination: the garbage can.

Rather than letting it go to waste, they thought they’d see if the homeless people they passed every day on the way to and from their cars might have some use for it.

Jessica Lowe, founder of Be a Little Too Kind, hugs Matthew Andrus Hunter, one of her homies, in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. Be a Little Too Kind is a nonprofit organization focused on assisting homeless people by providing a homemade meal every week and other essential life sustaining items. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Man, did they.

The response was so enthusiastic that Jessica and Victoria kept feeding the homeless until cooking school ended in December.

Both women got job offers. Victoria left for a cooking position out of state, while Jessica got an offer from a popular Salt Lake City bakery.

The position was exactly what she’d hoped for, but something held her back. It was the thoughts of the homies she’d gotten to know over the past three months. How could she abandon them?

Well, she couldn’t. She turned down the job and Be A Little Too Kind was born.

The title comes from a talk given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Latter-day Saint apostle, at BYU in 2018, during which he quoted a poem by C.R. Gibson:

I have wept in the night

At my shortness of sight

That to others’ needs made me blind

But I never have yet

Had a twinge of regret

For being a little too kind

Jessica Lowe, founder of Be a Little Too Kind, dices tomatoes to make 100 plus portions of jambalaya at her home in Draper on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. Be a Little Too Kind is a nonprofit organization focused on assisting homeless people by providing a homemade meal every week and other essential life sustaining items. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

At first, Be A Little Too Kind was a one-woman show named Jessica. But then, like magic, friends, neighbors and outright strangers began showing up, offering to help, lending their services, donating product, lightening the load. (To learn more or to volunteer, go to bealittletookind.org.)

Two years later, Jessica has an army of too kind people backing her.

Still, Jessica remains the guiding force, the person who does the cooking, packs it all up every Thursday morning in her F-150 pickup and personally delivers the hot meals and sandwiches. She’s very protective of her homies, taking care that they don’t feel exploited, that the relationships she’s formed with them remain based on mutual respect and trust.

“I’m not trying to end homelessness or force anyone to change,” she says, “I just want them to know that they have worth and they’re not forgotten. I also want them to know that the meals and other items are donated by other people who aren’t forgetting them.”

Does she ever feel overwhelmed, like she’d like to quit?

“Every Wednesday night I’m usually in tears, my back’s killing me,” she says, laughing, “Then it immediately goes away the next day when I see the homies, when I spend time with them. It’s just so rewarding and I love seeing how the domino effect is taking place with everybody who volunteers.”

The ripples sometimes include the people she’s serving.

People like Johnny, one of Jessica’s homies who landed a job and wanted to give his food stamp book to her so she could use it to buy groceries.

Jessica protested. “I’m not going to take your money,” she said.

Next thing she knew she got a text from Johnny (many homies routinely send her texts), asking her to meet him in front of Walmart.

“He was there with a grocery cart just full of stuff,” she remembers, “I gave him a hug and he was just shaking. He was scared to do this because it was completely out of his comfort zone, but he wanted to do it because he knew it was the right thing to do. It reminded me of my first time and I was shaking because it was out of my comfort zone.”

Recently, she received a text from a homie thanking her for her kindness. In it he used the phrase “the ministry of presence” to describe what he felt A Little Too Kind is all about.

“I’m going to steal that from you, that’s amazing,” Jessica texted back.

“I feel like that’s what they need, the ministry of presence — people showing up for them in their lives right now,” she says.

Even after two years, the thought that it’s her feeding everyone makes her chuckle.

“I know, I was the one who didn’t like to cook dinner,” she says. “Now I’m feeding a hundred people every week and I love it.”