Thursday, September 2, 2010

Not just surviving, but thriving

So in case you're wondering, I'm still looking for gainful employment. I've applied for a few promising positions, but nothing's come through yet. (I know: who wouldn't hire me on the spot? Thanks, mom.) In the midst of cover letter writing and tomato canning -- yes, yes, I'll get a post up about that soon -- and post-apartment-flood repairing I've continued to volunteer at a fair number of impressive programs in the DC area. In addition to a few shifts at CulinAerie, this has meant a return to Clagett Farm (where this time I weeded a gigantic patch of sweet potato plants and first heard of the wonderful idea of sauteing sweet potato greens), a workday at City Blossoms' Marion Street garden (which I left with enough pesto-destined basil strapped onto Ollie that I half expected us to topple over at a stop sign on the ride home), and a morning meal shift at Thrive DC (where I found myself not in the kitchen as I'd expected but instead handing out towels and bandying about my Spanish quite a bit). Handing out towels? Yes, folks, I do sometimes find myself doing things that don't directly involve food... or do I?

I'd first heard of Thrive DC from Mike -- a friend of mine who used to work with Alicia, the organization's executive director, on gun control issues a few years back. During an initial meeting with Alicia I heard of a few openings for assistant chefs amid the soup kitchen's restructuring. I later attended a volunteer orientation and signed up for a kitchen shift that brought me back to the organization's church basement location from 8-11am yesterday. (Yes, I, self-proclaimed night owl, chose a morning shift. Once I got a cup of coffee in me, things went pretty smoothly, actually.)

Thrive DC centers around shared daily meals for the homeless, but the food is a means as much as an end, providing an opportunity for other critical services like showers, laundry, counseling, computer access, and friendly conversation. (Food as a means for social gathering. Hmmm, I do believe I've mentioned the importance of this on the blog before. Yes, maybe once or twice.) My initial interest was in the kitchen operation, but since I spoke Spanish I was recruited to help out at the laundry/shower station instead. While registering people for bathing shifts and handing out towels and toiletries, I came to understand that Thrive DC is about so much more than hot meals. It's about relationship building and reaching out to help the whole person (not just his or her tummy, though with regular donations of delicious prepared food from Pret a Manger, their tummies are sometimes quite happy). In addition to the regular appearance of housing advisers, counselors, mental health specialists, nutritionists, job coaches, and Veterans Affairs representatives, there are activities each evening ranging from group therapy sessions to movie nights to yoga. There is some talk of an art therapy component being developed, modeled after a program at Miriam's Kitchen -- another partner in the DC-area homelessness and food justice arena. I was impressed by this model of collaboration, this program so successfully drawing on the diverse strengths and interests of its staff, partners, and volunteers.

There are many ways to get involved with Thrive DC. They welcome individual and group volunteers in the cafeteria and the computer lab. You can make a traditional donation (money) or a less traditional one (toiletries, food, professional skills). You can help the small but devoted staff develop additional activities or facilitate connections with other partners around town. I am myself trying to figure out if there just might be a way to harness some of the excess food from local farms and farmers' markets for use in the kitchen that serves around 150 meals each day. And I have already (repeatedly) expressed my willingness to be a recipe consultant. What can you do with 50 pounds of donated sweet corn? How can you prepare 10 crates of tomatoes as part of something simple, nutritious, and delicious? Call me.

Hmmm. A recipe consultant. Know any paying jobs along those lines?

1 comment:

  1. Food justice...I like the sound of that.

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