September 23, 2010
“So, where do the leftover veggies go?” It’s a common question around here, especially on Tuesdays.
The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) operates a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, connecting students, faculty and staff with fresh, organic, Maryland-grown produce. Those who have paid upfront for a share of the season’s harvest at Maryland’s One Straw Farm stop by the JHSPH parking garage every Tuesday to pick up their shares.
At the end of the day, at least a dozen crates of unclaimed produce remain. Some folks just aren’t crazy about, say, chard, but CLF and One Straw Farm donate most of the extra shares. Since August, we’ve been sending this produce to the Franciscan Center of Baltimore, an outreach agency that has been providing emergency assistance and support to those who need it for 42 years-and serving hot meals for 30. On a typical day, the Center serves 400 meals. At the end of the month, when SNAP benefits run out, the number runs closer to 600.
Last week, I had the privilege of visiting the Franciscan Center with two of my colleagues. We were met with a warm welcome from Ed McNally, the new Executive Director of the Center. An attorney and former Roman Catholic priest, Ed stressed the importance of treating each client with respect. One of the main goals of the Franciscan Center is to recognize the dignity of each human being, and this intention is apparent: the facility is immaculate and the staff and volunteers tremendously kind. A mural brightens the dining room and positive messages throughout the building uplift passers-by. The Center has an open door policy: rather than requiring proof of homelessness or unemployment, the staff and volunteers welcome as many clients as they can accommodate.
Ed stressed the importance of serving fresh, healthy food in an emergency assistance setting like this one. “You can eat junk food and feel bad,” he says, “or you can eat well and feel good. And there’s nothing more dignified than a good meal.” Everything is steamed, baked, or broiled at the Franciscan Center-never fried. We were pleased to see the cooks making good use of the surplus produce from the CSA, and the three of us got right to work chopping three buckets of bell peppers, Annaheim peppers and onions. As we walked through the kitchen, we spotted cups of watermelon chunks from last week’s CSA. According to Ed, many clients like the option of fruit as an alternative dessert.
To ensure that the donated produce is used to its fullest, a local chef regularly visits the Franciscan Center to train the cooks on how to prepare produce they may not have used before. This does double duty, attracting community service volunteers from area high schools while empowering staff. “Before, I didn’t know how to prepare eggplant, squash. Now I say, ‘Give ‘em to me!'” Kim, a cook at the center, is so excited about learning how to prepare different kinds of produce that she brings some things into her own home now and then, for practice. “I’m a cook,” Kim says when we mistakenly called her a chef. “You have to earn that. I’ll be a chef one day!”
This Monday, September 27th, the Franciscan Center, in association with CLF, will launch its own Healthy Monday campaign to promote healthy food choices among its clients and the goal to make sure that everyone, regardless of socio-economic status, has access to safe, nutritious and delicious meals. After all, what’s more dignified than a good meal?