Doing Good Food Deeds

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Merry Christmas, Kitchn readers! Our hands are sore from jamming cloves into clementines so I’ll see how well I can type. Today our writers take a well-deserved day off and I leave you with a nice big juicy post to read in case you’re kicking around the site.

Two weeks ago, in my weekly email I talked about some good food deeds being done by my friends at the Greyston Bakery and I asked you to send in your good food deeds. The response was amazing. I hope we all continue blazing into 2009 inspired to do good through food. It’s where it all starts. It’s what we all need to live, let’s help each other live well.

Click through for the stories.

Thank you all. You are all, each and every one of you, an inspirtation.

I’m going to pick one Good Food Deed author, at random, to award a copy of my book, The Greyston Bakery Cookbook.

From Sandy: Any time we have older neighbors who live alone I try to take over a hot meal a few times a week – even if they do not want the company. Some do…some don’t. Some say they enjoy cold sandwiches or hot dogs – but really they say that because expenses may be tight or it is just inconvenient to cook for one and they would rather cook what’s easy. So look around and see if there is a neighbor who could use a hot meal. Make a little extra and say we had some extra and hate for it to go to waste. Maybe give them a little extra so they can heat up a meal or two.

From Elisha: When I was in high school my class learned that there was one kosher soup kitchen in all of Manhattan. We decided to put on a fundraiser to get enough money to buy all the ingredients for a chicken dinner and desserts, which we would cook and serve ourselves around a holiday at the soup kitchen. We screened a documentary at our school and charged for tickets. Hundreds of people came. There were only 26 students in my class and once we had the money we each went out and bought the ingredients for one piece of the meal, cooked it in our kitchens together in small groups, and our parents drove us to the city with it. I remember making chocolate chip cookies from scratch with my friends, deciding to forgo the normal Duncan Hines boxed mixes. At the soup kitchen we plated all the food, played music and sat with the homeless people. The food was delicious and the conversations were touching and memorable. It felt so good to have done all that with our own power and on our own initiative, and we went home that night feeling like we really made a difference in those people’s days.

From Emily: Instead of buying gifts for my classmates, I donated chicks to Heifer International in their names. This is food-related in the most basic sense; donations to Heifer allow the organization to give livestock animals, training, independence, and financial stability to some of the world’s poorest people.

From EM: My Congressman, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR-3) personally makes and gives away 200 fruitcakes at Christmas.

From Suzanne:
My Good Food Deed this year is sending everyone on my non-local holiday list cookies from the following: This is a great interactive way to give twice, a concept masterminded by my friend, Gretchen Holt, whose son, Liam — Prince Liam in her blog on the website — was the inspiration for this hands-on community effort.

From Landon:
My Good Food Deed story also involves one of my first jobs. For one year after I graduated from college and before I went to graduate school, I worked for a community theater touring in schools and community centers, and I supplemented my income by waiting tables (typical story, right?). I was working at the Mill Bakery & Eatery in Savannah, Georgia, my hometown. One night after my shift, I noticed some of the guys who worked in the kitchen throwing away giant garbage bags full of frozen baked goods from that week. These were day-old goods that they wouldn’t sell in the restaurant. That night I took 2 bags of frozen muffins and pastries to the Inner City Night Shelter, and I did the same once or twice a week for the rest of the time I worked there. The shelter was on my way home, so it wasn’t an inconvenience for me to stop by on my way home from work. The guys who unloaded the bags for me were always glad to see me, and their gratitude touched me.

As far as I was concerned, it was a very easy good deed, but it was a great reminder that we should all be doing what we can. My easy good deed brought some joy to the men who slept nights and ate breakfast at that shelter, just as the easy good deeds of others has brought a lot of joy to me.

From Julie:
I remember the first time I realized that I was a cynical giver, before I realized that it took almost physical effort to give—to quiet a pounding heart and relax tense muscles because just the idea of giving was hard. I’d spent the afternoon in a soup kitchen with friends I’d made at a local church. I’m not religious, but I loved the compassionate heart this group displayed. Here in Arizona, where undocumented workers’ crossing the dessert is the source of constant heated arguments, these churchgoers saw only dozens, and some years hundreds of people dying of thirst during the crossing. Their response was to join an organization whose mission was to go out into the desert, on foot and with wheelbarrows with deflated tires when faced with terrain where roads didn’t travel, to fill water stations with water. I can’t claim to be a Christian, but I was inspired to see the Christian spirit alive and well in my fellow man.

Anyway, back at the soup kitchen where I’d volunteered many times with this group, I’d spent the afternoon making sure the accidentally cut-off fingertips of ill-fitted gloves weren’t lost in the giant tub of Italian pasta salad and that every bit of mold was trimmed off otherwise good produce. As always, it was a solemn but honest bonding experience—a good way to build strength before what can often be a challenging dinner service. This kitchen served about 150 men, women, and children every night. From where I stood, I had a clear view through the wide-open rolling steel door of the line stretching into the small, nearly empty parking lot. I watched them shuffle in as I scooped sloppy joe filling onto the buns my pastor-friend next to me was placing on every plate. I noted how one tall young man would smile earnestly and handsomely at me when he saw how willingly I smiled at him, first. I saw one family show up, cramped into a dusty brown hatchback, the kids moving quietly and solemnly as the line moved along. I listened one man tell a story about how he sped ten miles to the kitchen on a rusty, squeaky bike because the bus never showed up and he knew the kitchen stopped service promptly at 6:30.

And then, as the line was dying down, I saw a shiny new silver car pull into the parking lot. A young man got out. He was dressed in hip-hop style, sporting expensive, trendy labels head to toe. He had an expensive haircut. He took a plate and got in line. He was groomed, clean, and when he got to my station in line, he smelled nice. I barely heard him say thank you. I leaned over to my pastor-friend and rattled off, ranting about his nice car and nice clothes. I was seeing red by the time I finished, watching him sit at a table by himself, head up as he ate his food as if he were in a high-end restaurant, and not eating from a paper plate. I looked at my pastor, who’d listened to me silently the whole time. He just looked at me, shrugged a little, smiled a little more and said, “I’m not here to judge,” and then looked up. The tall young man with the winning style was back in line, thanking my pastor-friend as he put another bun on his plate for the third time that evening.

Have you ever been hit by twenty tons of humility? In a strange way, it felt good. Liberating. It wasn’t about me, and that’s what true giving is. After that, when digging into my pocket for a couple more dollars for someone’s donation drive or dishing out scoops from a large vat of sloppy joe mix at a soup kitchen or staying up until the wee hours baking for some bake sale, I didn’t worry about who was benefiting or why they needed it or if they could work harder or do better or any of those things I might probably never understand.

From Esther: Many, many years ago I had the honor of preparing the Thanksgiving dinner for my father and brother in my small apartment. My mother was in the hospital. I now had the opportunity to not only prepare a meal, but bring it to the hospital for my mother to enjoy. Just because my mother was in the hospital didn’t mean she had to eat her dinner without all the accouterments of fine dining. The wonderful aromas that were coming from her room brought others to see what Florence was having for dinner. If I could have, I would have cooked for everyone. I was very happy that my mom had the chance to enjoy her meal and that I cooked all her favorite dishes. For many years now, I have my holiday dinner with family and friends, and I recall the small rock cornish hen wrapped in foil that graced my mothers hospital tray table and a smile comes to my face. And I think a smile comes to hers as well.

From Liann: Why does it need to cost so much to spend time together over quality food? It doesn’t. Thus, Vegan Community Dinner was born. The agreement is that no one is to spend more than $5, but there is no obligation to bring anything. The meal is vegan so that everyone can come and eat. Our goal is to create a community around a meal. To make sure people are cared for and nourished, while also being encouraged to be more creative and more willing to take chances in the kitchen. As our country is showing us what happens when people live beyond their means, we are glad that we have given our community another, cheaper option.

From Mia: Some years ago when I was a fully involved ‘church lady’ it was just a part of that life to bring dinner to people. New moms, someone who was ill, a family grieving would all be the recipient of dinners made by the ladies in the church. Some of the meals were amazing, some were scary but they were all prepared with thoughtful, if not skilled hands, and all were appreciated.

Fast forward a number of years. I left the church and was foundering out in the business world as a supervisor in a large hotel. One of my employees mentioned that his wife was having surgery. I had been missing the opportunity to cook for people so I went home and made a dinner that could be frozen, packaged it in foil pans and brought it to him the next day. I was surprised at how stunned he was at the gesture. To me it was an easy thing to do to help; to him it was something no one had ever done for him. It made me happy, but it also made me weep a little that something so easy was such a little known thing in his life.

From Shelly: Thank you so much for the inspiring story and reminder of how food can truly impact many aspects of our lives. This took me back in time 18 years when I was living in San Francisco and working as a waitress. On my walk home from work I often passed a young woman who was sleeping under the stairs at the entrance of a school. I could not get her off of my mind, and one night toasted bread, fried eggs and made a warm sandwich wrapped in paper and tin foil. I took this to her and continued to do this over the course of the next few months. I never found out her story but I felt her appreciation when she accepted this small gift and was given a huge one in return.

From Christine: I really want to tell you about my good friend, Susan S. She is a delight, a wonderful woman who not only knows her way around the kitchen but also at the dinner table. You see, when you sit down at her dinner gatherings, it’s magic. There is talk about any subject even the heavier subjects like theology and lighter fare, on women topics too. Don’t think the guys can escape this, they want to join in. She hears your voice, your story and sometimes, when you’re wrestling with a difficult issue – she is there with cooking and sharing, she comforts and heals.

From Jen:
I live and have always lived in NYC. After 9/11 a change came over me because I’m so blessed to be able to eat out often and rarely would bring home leftovers or if I did it usually would spoil. Ever since 9/11 I always get my leftovers packed up from a restaurant meal and always give them to a homeless/begging person on the street. It hasn’t been hard which is unfortunate. A block north of me is a homeless shelter and a 24 hour supermarket is next to my building so there’s always at least one needy person outside of there

From Edie:
When I was in college in Boston, I was walking from the bus stop to my dorm one night.

It was blistery cold and as I was coming to a bridge, I saw a woman who had a thread-bare coat with no buttons on and no shoes – only sandals.
She was struggling to keep her coat closed against the wind (the wind was against my back) and the pain on her face was memorable not only because of the obvious helplessness of her situation but also because of the familiarity of her face.

She looked like my Mother.

Being a poor college student, I had only a few cents in my pocket. I didn’t have money enough to take the train that night – only enough for bus fare and had to walk an extra half-mile. I was new in town and didn’t know how I could help her. I walked on and for the next 30+ years I just hoped and prayed that the woman found salvation somewhere in that frozen night.

When my Mother passed away a few years ago, I wanted to do something to remember her. She loved to cook, was superb at it, and I wanted to tie that in.

Thinking of that woman in the dark, fighting the uncompromising wind, I found that the Walk for Hunger in Massachusetts through Project Bread is a 20 mile charity walk that is held the first Sunday in May.
Every year, I walk the 20 miles in my Mom’s memory (her birthday is May 6th) and raise money for all of the people in the state that need a hand feeding their families in the hope that some day, we can all enjoy a full stomach and warm feelings even on the coldest of nights.

From Allison:
I’m a teacher in a very low-income middle school – over 80% of my students are on free or reduced lunch. Because so few of them can afford to even eat regularly without public assistance, they associate food with love. I don’t like to use food for rewards too often, but every now and again, it can be very effective. I use food in the classroom three times during the school year as part of a lesson: for sensory details, parts of speech, and procedural speeches.

For sensory details, I give them a piece of candy and they have to describe it using the five senses: what it looks like, feels like, smells like, sounds like and of course tastes like. Parts of speech I incorporate candy hearts at Valentine’s Day; we look at the phrases and identify nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. Procedural speeches are speeches on how to do things. I model one on making Rice Crispy treats. None of my foods are fancy, but the lessons are memorable and my students feel valued and cared for by sharing this treat with me.