Well, probably not the best summer ever. Some of these 'others' in question are probably hoping they make it through the summer at all. This morning I volunteered for Project Chicken Soup, an organization that provides meals for people with HIV. I'm so glad I did.
Last week, my mom asked if I was free for a few hours today. Rochelle, a woman at my parents' synagogue, had befriended her, and knowing that Violet (mom and I are on a first-name basis) is always eager to help anyone in need, Rochelle asked her if she was available to help out with this project. Violet was busy today, but got me to volunteer in her stead. I was excited to help out -- I've definitely been caught up in my own problems lately, and could use a reminder of how good I have it, not to mention a chance to get my hands dirty and help out some people in need. Also, they were preparing the meals at the Hirsch Family Kitchen on Fairfax, a building about 5 blocks from my apartment that I have passed a million times, but never seen inside.
It was a 4-hour commitment, from 8 am (yeesh) to noon. By the time I got a coffee and drove over there (yes, I drove. Pathetic, but every snoozy moment counts in the 7 o'clock hour on a Sunday morning), they were already in full swing. The front room was filled with volunteers in hair nets and nametags, filling out forms and waiting to get their assignments. Some of these people have been doing this for years, some were newbies like me. There was a handful of high school students, fulfilling their community service requirements. The rest were older -- the same characters you'd see at Sisterhood and Men's Club meetings. A dearth of kids my age though, sadly.
After a short orientation, Paul, the head of the organization, led us into the fully equipped industrial kitchen. Giant mixers, a bathtub-sized cooker for chili, vats of soup. Probably about 60 volunteers dicing vegetables, mixing cookie dough, cutting chicken into pieces. The process was very impressive. This was quality food -- fresh vegetables, ample seasoning, kosher meat. And of course, all the food was prepared with large amounts of love. Everything was very well-organized, with a few more experienced volunteers doling out tasks to the rest of us. I spent most of the day on chili patrol -- we had to pack 100 containers with rice, top it with chili, lid them (check all four corners, no air bubbles!), and send them off. Trouble came in the form of nasty rice. It had cooked totally inconsistently, and much of it had to be trashed. We did not have nearly enough decent rice for all 100, so Mark, our lead, had us go to Plan B: dump all the meagerly filled containers of rice into the chili. Genius.
Over the course of the day, I introduced myself to vivacious Rochelle, who in turn introduced me to her husband, her daughter, and her son, and made it very clear that now that she knows me (and "has fallen in love" with me), she will be contacting me for more opportunities to help mend the world. I met Rose, a smiley Stanford-bound 11th grader hoping to study international policy en route to becoming Secretary of State, who happened to be in the same history class as my cousin Justin (I beamed as she said, "He's such a talented filmmaker!"). I also ran into my own 12th-grade English teacher! I hadn't seen her since then, and was tickled that she still remembered me after all these years.
After 4 hours of thawing, rinsing, cutting, mixing, mopping, wiping, sanitizing, and packing, we had 100 paper-in-plastic bags filled to the top with:
- baked chicken with roasted potatoes
- pasta aglio e olio with fresh parsley
- chili with beef, beans, corn, peppers (and rice!)
- chicken soup (of course)
- minestrone soup
- steamed veggies
- cucumber salad
- fruit salad
- whole fresh fruit
- protein bars and juice boxes
- apple crumble
- peanut butter cookies
Special meals were even made for those with low-sodium, vegetarian, and diabetic diets. And as I was walking out at noon, a whole other set of volunteers was walking in: drivers, who would spend the next few hours hand-delivering these meals to households across Los Angeles County.
People. This is such a worthy effort. They do this twice a month, and can use all the help they can get. If you live in the area, I encourage you to help out. If you shop at Ralph's, you can have 5% of the cost of your purchases go to Project Chicken Soup. And of course if you can make a donation, that would be incredible -- they need knives and cutting boards, they need office supplies, and they could sure use a good rice cooker! (which is to say, they need money)
Sometimes you get what you need. For me, the swift kick in the pants and the reminder of how lucky I am that I got this morning were exactly what I needed. I will certainly continue to go on about beach days and glorified Hershey's kisses, but every so often, it's important to take stock. Chicken stock, that is.
(Note: I have no photos for this one. But there are plenty of them on the website -- check out the April 2006 newsletter, under "News". Also check out the "Webmaster's story" on the front page. Great story.)