Kitchen Pandemic Notes 2020
Nic Bianchi Kitchen Director
March 16, 2021
By Nic Bianchi, Kitchen Director
Dorothy’s Kitchen was founded by a group of people who simply wanted to feed the hungry and the poor. Today this longstanding tradition still stands, and Dorothy’s Kitchen is available to provide hot meals twice daily, every day, and emergency groceries to anyone in need, no questions asked. We are located at 30 Soledad St. in Salinas’ Chinatown and our paid staff consists of a cook, a manager, a maintenance person and a driver to pick up donations from the community; however, we could not serve our high-quality nutritious meals without dedicated volunteers.
Our challenges in Dorothy’s Kitchen include lack of storage, managing donations, and managing volunteer support. Most of the square footage at Dorothy’s Kitchen is the dining room and Kitchen. We have a small pantry and a dry storage area in the back. We have sacrificed an outdoor patio area (an area that staff and volunteers could be using) for storage. Three large Tuff Shed-style sheds have been installed there and this allows us to have a safe area to store tables and chairs, equipment, utility items, cleaning supplies, etc. . . and save the inside m pantry for food items. We do not store food outside.
There are many times we get an overabundance of one item. Our staff is very skilled at finding others who can use it, freezing the surplus, or simply (for instance) being able to give our guests an entire carton of milk each, or a whole box of cereal, etc. Due to the generosity of others, we also have a couple of areas off site, where donations can be safely stored.
We are blessed with a few dedicated volunteers who come, rain or shine. That said, it seems like we can always use another hand! Sometimes meals need to be very simple because we just don’t have the help required to prep and serve anything but soup and bread; however, it must be said that a very hearty, well-prepared soup (or beans) and bread are among our favorite meals!
We also have many organizations in the community that provide volunteer support and ingredients for the meals we prepare. The National Charity League is a huge help. If we
are running low on a particular ingredient, they will put out a request to their network. They also supply guests with personal care products and their mother-daughter teams volunteer on a regular basis.
We have a very dedicated group of faith communities that staff our weekends. Some of them have been coming for years! They use our Kitchen to cook and serve hot meals to guests on Saturday and Sunday.
We are blessed with special private donors we can call when a need arises. Some provide us with the endless supply of paper products we need to serve from the door during this time of pandemic, and they provide anything we need that cannot be
acquired from the Food Bank or our regular commercial donors. We are so grateful to Nob Hill, Smart & Final, Acme Coffee, Grocery Outlook and Costco! The Food Bank for
Monterey County has been a great partner for decades!
These partner relationships keep the volunteers and the food flowing to serve about 400 meals daily, 1,500 annually, at Dorothy’s Kitchen!! Our success is their success too, we couldn’t do it without their support and we had the chance to find that out!!
In March 2020, when the Coronavirus became a reality in Chinatown, the food supply and the volunteer supply both dried up, seemingly overnight!! Our donated food is good usable outdated food that cannot be sold retail; however, once people were quarantined, they began cooking at home and food donations from stores and restaurants stopped. Our volunteer support consists mainly of retired people and they, too, needed to quarantine and take care of their health. Our Kitchen was left without much food coming in and without people to prep and serve.
Initially, our manager, cook, driver and maintenance person were the only staff getting food out to the increasing numbers gracing our door. We made the decision early on to close the dining room to guests and serve meals from the door. So, we put the word out to our volunteer partners and asked for sandwiches. Hundreds of sandwiches came pouring in, we paired them with a simple soup, and some days it was just bread and fruit in a bag, however, we did not miss ONE DAY of opening our door and serving our guests something to eat, twice a day. That scarcity lasted for almost a month until emergency funding was able to provide more manpower and some basic kitchen staples. I think the main quote from staff during those days was, “How are we going to do this?” But we did. Each day, then the next . . .
Just about the time that we stabilized with more hands and more food, the next challenge hit. When our guests began to move from their encampments into motels (Project Roomkey identified the most health-challenged unsheltered people and moved them into COVID isolation) and needed three meals daily, our challenge was to serve not only the 200 people that came to Dorothy’s Kitchen twice daily for meals, it was also
the three meals per day for 75 people in motels in another city! It was a huge challenge to design a plan to resource ingredients and then come up with extra refrigeration required. Thermo King provided a refrigerated trailer and our nimble and creative team engineered meals that could be heated up in motel room microwave ovens! These daily meals were prepped and refrigerated, and picked up before breakfast every morning for six weeks.
The lessons learned from responding to the Covid crisis have been many! Among them are how important we are to each other. Every member of the team counts and is important to our focus, which is: The Guest.
When a crisis hits, the cream rises to the top! The pressure was on and everyone on the Kitchen team stepped up their game and produced 110%, especially our manager, Julieta Borges. She showed exceptional leadership by adapting to the situation and thinking outside the box. Covid is the great equalizer and I think that the possibility that we could be infected as well as our guests, really brings home the fact that “we are all ONE”.
What we’ve learned:
Be prepared. As long as viability permits, hold back donated items that can be put into a lunch bag without prep. We had a large supply of items like this; however, they went fast!!
People are Good! This is something we’ve always known, but the volume of donations and care for the people in Chinatown was astounding!!
Think WAY outside the box
I think one of the silver linings could be the renewed awareness for each other. It has brought families, communities and those we work with together. Staff from the Drop-In Center have helped in the Kitchen and Kitchen has provided extra service to guests when needed.
I think the biggest lesson learned this last year has been regarding relationships, and when relationships are involved there are always challenges. However, going forward if we can remember to:
Be kind, Be helpful, Be fun, Be productive, Be forgiving, Be honest………
Then, we will be ready for anything……even a pandemic!
With love, respect and compassion, Dorothy’s Place provides essential services, transitional support and housing assistance to people experiencing the injustice of homelessness and extreme poverty.
Without your financial support, our work doesn’t happen. Join us! Stand with us as we assist people from street life to home life. Your solidarity is humbly and gratefully received.