When I started working for the Poverello Center almost eleven years ago, I would have never expected to be such a huge part of this community. At the time I worked as an overnight direct staff worker, checking in clients for the night assigning beds and chores for the following day, locking down the building for the night and handing out sack lunches and blankets on the coldest winter nights.
I liked the job because I got to help people feel comfortable and give them a safe welcoming place to stay for the night. Some nights we would sleep only 40-50 people, which is much different from today when we are sleeping 150 or more people on any given night. After working the long overnight shifts for two years the kitchen manager at the time was leaving to take on a different job in Oregon.
I was very passionate about the work I had been doing for two years and thought that managing the kitchen would allow me to reach out to many of the people whom I didn’t ever get to see during the day, the families, the working poor, and the shelter resistant individuals, as well as interacting with the clients who stayed at the shelter doing their chores. I had never worked in this kind of capacity with food service and the challenge was a bit daunting. However, I walked into the kitchen determined to learn the ropes.
The first month I cooked and served over 8000 meals, which was a significant feat for me! I worked daily with many clients and volunteers crafting delicious meals and learning their secrets and tricks to pulling it all off. Running the soup kitchen at the Poverello Center is quite different from other kitchens. The budget for purchasing supplies is around $500 dollars per month. That’s right $500 dollars a month to feed around 10,000 hungry people. That requires the kitchen manager to be very resourceful.
Fortunately the community in Missoula is extremely generous and donates over 500,000 lbs of food each year to the Poverello Center and its food programs. This food comes from grocery stores, catering companies, churches, restaurants, gardeners, non-profits, and caring individuals that want to support the Poverello Center and do not want to see food go to waste. What this means as the kitchen manager is that you never quite know what you have to work with on any given day, you need to be clever with your cooking and able to substitute ingredients on a moment’s notice.
One of the first few weeks as the kitchen manager we received a donation from a local grocery store of many different kinds of gourmet cheeses; Brie, Goats milk, Port Salut, etc. What do you do with all those different kinds of cheeses? Well-being a cheese head myself, and trying to feed the most people possible, the answer seemed obvious to me. You make macaroni and cheese of course! At home I probably never would have considered doing something like that, but in my role as kitchen manager it made the most sense. Let me tell you that was some of the most delicious macaroni and cheese that I have ever tasted, and it did not last long on the serving line.
That has always been one of the most rewarding aspects of the job for me, the ability to think outside of the box and to be open to new ideas and other people’s perspectives. The first few months as kitchen manager, I didn’t quite know how to prepare many of the things that the clients and volunteers would ask to make. I would pour over cookbooks trying to figure out the best recipe, and ultimately the answer was right in front of me.
I asked the people volunteering and working with me how they did it. Some were trained chefs who attended culinary school and worked for five star restaurants, some were ladies from local churches, who cooked with recipes handed down through their families, and some were clients who knew exactly how to improvise with limited resources. The vast wealth of knowledge amongst the people volunteering and working in the kitchen was truly remarkable, and was something that I utilized every day as the kitchen manager.
For six years I continued to expand and grow the Poverello Centers food programs, developing new partnerships with community members, restaurants, farmers, stores, and individuals, ultimately resulting in my current role as the Program Manager of Emergency Services. Just last December we moved into our new facility with its state of the art kitchen, and hit a new milestone.
In the time since I first stepped foot into the kitchen as the kitchen manager through January 1st 2015 I have been a part of and overseen the production of 1,028,381 meals! Never would I have thought I would have been a part of that remarkable accomplishment. It truly is a testament to a community that is incredibly giving, both in the physical sense of product and money, but also in the sense of time, energy, knowledge and volunteerism. The accomplishment of those meals really goes out to everyone in the Missoula community that has been a part for the past nine years. Without the support in the community it would not have been possible. Thank You!