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Portland, OR, United States
I am finishing up my midwifery apprenticeship and plan to be a real midwife early in 2014!

Monday, October 15, 2007


When we lived at St. Nicholas Ranch, we started up a food distribution program for the poverty-stricken folks who lived out in the rural area where the ranch is. Once a month, we'd bring food from the Fresno Food Bank and wherever else we could get it--I asked for produce from some organic farmers I knew, and Paul would get bread from a baker in the area. We'd package it up and people would come and get it and take it home. For some, it got them through to the end of the month after they'd run out of paycheck. After awhile, though, we felt that just giving them the food and having them just take it and go wasn't quite satisfying, so when Poverello House in Fresno offered to make a dinner for us to serve alongside, we accepted gratefully. That gave us a chance to sit down with these folks and get to know them. We made some lasting and very interesting friendships. Like Tammy, who was the only person from the program to ever come to our church. She came once, and that very week she died. Annaliese, who had four beautiful daughters, and whom I suspected had an abusive relationship with her boyfriend. Shonda had two children who lived with her, and four others who had been taken away by social services, and a boyfriend in jail. I took her into Fresno once so she could see him.

It was an eye-opening experience for us. One we just couldn't have and then turn from. It stayed with us.

One interesting thing, though, was that the school got involved in trying to help with a food drive. They brought cans of food collected by the students. More than a third of the cans of food were marked USDA. They'd come directly from our food distribution!

So, when we got here to Portland, and were talking with Kim, a public health nurse who is a member of our church, and we asked her about the needs of the community at large, she said a cooking class would be a good idea, because people get free food that they don't know how to cook. That rang true for us, and that's how the concept of CUSINA was born.

We have been working with an organization called JOIN for several months now, creating the concept and finding people who were interested in such a class. It turns out there are lots of people who are interested in learning how to cook Greek food! JOIN is a resource center for homeless people and we wanted to work with people who are transitioning from homelessness. JOIN helped us out with that, providing 12 recently-housed people with a desire to cook. We will have 6 classes, every Monday evening for six weeks.

After these months of preparation, CUSINA has come to fruition! Tonight was the first class, and I say it was a raging success! Here's the way it's come together:

The core group for CUSINA created menus that would use foods that would be easily available to people who are in public housing and getting food from food pantries. The recipes were then given to chefs from Greek restaurants, who graciously accepted the task of teaching the classes. They each chose to donate the food items and bring any of the equipment that we needed. The core group volunteers worked together with other volunteers to have "cooking buddies" for each class participant. We have volunteers to set up beforehand, and volunteers to clean up after, and volunteers to provide transportation to each person who would otherwise have a hard time getting to and from the church.

Everything went just as planned tonight! The chef for tonight was from Greek Cusina. (Yes, the one with the octopus on the outside of the building!) Ted, the owner, came with his son Theo and his nephew Billy, who is the head chef there. Billy did the actual teaching, as he was trained in Greece and in the US in culinary schools. And you'd have thought he was trained in teaching, too! He did a fabulous job. Our menu theme tonight was meze (appetizers) and we learned how to make tzatziki, hummus, and gigantes (giant white beans in a tomato sauce). It all tasted so good! I think the participants were amazed at being able to make such tasty food with such simple ingredients.

At the beginning of the class, a few appetizers were put out so everyone had a bit to eat to tide them over, and to provide a welcoming atmosphere. Then, while the gigantes were cooking, we all sat down and ate a dinner together that consisted of pre-made foods that we'd cooked that night. It was delicious and a fun way to end the evening. Everyone got gigantes, tzatziki and hummus to take home.

Greeks are legendary for their hospitality and their food. This program combines both! I'm already looking forward to next Monday evening!


Magpie Ima said...

This sounds wonderful in so many ways--and you're making me hungry!

Mimi said...

Sounds so awesome!

Molly Newman said...

What a fantastic program! Community building, skills development and food assistance all in one... I am constantly amazed at the creative, positive projects you're involved in.

(Those giant beans sound delicious. Mmmmm.)

Denise Norman said...

Oh, this is so amazing! I wonder if we could get something like this going in my neck of the woods -- the deep south.


Rebeca said...

That sounds great! I'd love to be involved in something like that.