I started volunteering at Miriam’s Kitchen last year, which is an organization committed to ending chronic homelessness in DC through a number of support programs. I have been working with the meal program in the kitchen. Breakfast and dinner are served to guests each weekday, and a lunch is provided on Wednesdays. All of the food in the kitchen is made with fresh ingredients that include whole grains, fresh meats, and local and organic fruit and vegetables, most of which is donated. Miriam’s Kitchen also has a nearby garden where produce and herbs are grown.
I first heard about Miriam’s Kitchen through my culinary school; we would roll extra dough and line tart shells, which we would freeze and donate to the organization for their use. We also donated cakes and other items that would otherwise go to waste.
I work on the mid-day volunteer prep shift, so we are not serving customers – just doing tasks that the kitchen doesn’t have time to do during the meal service. It has been fun for me to be back in a commercial kitchen, and the group that works the shift with me is always the same, so I have met some people I wouldn’t ordinarily have crossed paths with in the city.
When you show up to volunteer, you have no idea what you will be working on that day. Probably the worst job I’ve had to do was removing all of the meat off 12 enormous raw turkeys that had been frozen! The turkeys had been thawing, but were still freezing cold. I learned how to break apart the turkey and methodically remove all of the meat, which was then ground into turkey burgers. By the end of the shift, I had turkey blood and juices all over me, and my hands were freezing cold from holding onto the turkeys while cutting them apart. I was thankful that Thanksgiving is nowhere near because I don’t think I ever want to see another turkey again!
Yesterday when I volunteered I was put on produce where I chopped up onions for over an hour and was able to have a good cry with all of the onion gasses getting into my eyes. The chefs at Miriam’s Kitchen also had made their own pickles with a large number of cucumbers that were donated, so I speared pickle halves that were to be used in Cuban Sandwiches.
There is a group of people who helps the head baker make healthy desserts for the customers of Miriam’s Kitchen, but there isn’t room for me to help out on that team at the moment. Working on the culinary side has been a good opportunity for me to practice those knife skills that I have always had trouble with… it is humbling to see a non-chef chop onions way faster and cleaner than me, so I guess I need the practice!