Editor’s note: This is part 2 in a two-part series of articles. Part 1 appeared in the July 24 Empire, and can be found at http://bit.ly/nqZX6n.
In the heart of downtown Juneau, a variety of vitamin-rich leafy greens thrive in containers on the roof and in the terraced vegetable beds behind the Glory Hole homeless shelter and soup kitchen. Purple-leafed beets and feathery carrot tops foreshadow a bounty of flavor-packed root vegetables. Brightly-colored nasturtium flowers and their pepper leaves have already made an appearance in the shelter’s homegrown salads.
This summer, the Glory Hole’s kitchen staff has been incorporating fresh vegetables and herbs from the gardens maintained by gardener Andre LaRue, patrons, and volunteers from the community. Down in the kitchen, Michael Monte and Floyd Boren were in the midst of preparing vegetarian burritos from scratch for the day’s lunch. Two trays of Spanish rice warmed in the oven while stainless steel bowls filled with pinto beans, onions, mushrooms, and shredded cheese sat neatly on the preparation counter. Another bowl was piled high with bright green lettuce that had been harvested from the gardens the night before.
“We are working to change people’s taste buds,” said Monte, also known as “Little Mikey” by his friends.
Monte’s love for cooking began when he was young.
“You know how kids are always playing outside?,” he asked. “Well, when I was little, I would hear my mom rattling pans, and then I’d run into the kitchen.”
He first learned to cook by helping his mother and grandmother prepare meals for their large family. Later on, he worked in restaurants and other food-related businesses.
When Monte arrived at the Glory Hole in April, he washed dishes as part of the requirement for staying at the shelter. When a position opened up in the kitchen staff, he jumped at the opportunity and has been cooking there ever since.
A few weeks ago, a patron told Monte that he was unable to eat meat and dairy, inspiring Monte to try making vegetarian burritos for the first time. He snipped green onions and cilantro from the garden and added them to the egg and tomato-filled burritos. At first, he was nervous about how patrons would react to the meatless dish, but he was pleasantly surprised. “They ate it all up! I didn’t even get to try any myself!” he exclaimed with a smile.
With encouragement from Mariya Lovischuk, the Glory Hole’s executive director, Monte and Boren have made strides in serving healthier meals with the fresh garden produce, such as salads. They have also been exploring new recipes and methods to prepare meals that contain less sodium and fat. Beans and canned goods are drained and rinsed to wash away excess salt. The two cooks use onions and fresh garlic, if available, to add flavor to the dishes while leaving butter, sour cream, and other condiments on the side.
Instead of using ranch dressing, Boren makes a special dressing from scratch using simple flavors from the garden.
“I picked parsley, chives, and cilantro from the roof and chopped it up,” he said. “Then, I mixed it with plain sour cream. People really seem to like it.”
This easy, homemade version avoids the preservatives and artificial flavors oftentimes found in processed salad dressings without sacrificing good taste.
Monte said he dreams about running his own kitchen one day. For now, he enjoys the day-to-day challenge of cooking at the Glory Hole.
“You never know how many people will be coming in,” he commented. “The amount of food available varies according to donations, too.”
Monte and Boren make efficient use of these donations by checking the pantry the day before their shift. They plan the next day’s meal based on the available ingredients. If necessary, they begin preparing some ingredients the night before, perhaps shredding cheese or picking greens from the garden. Just as with any busy household, cooking from scratch takes time and some planning, but the results are worth the extra effort.
The Glory Hole serves three meals a day to those in need. Volunteers from community groups such as local churches regularly bring ingredients to cook dinner. Members of the local Slow Food chapter recently started cooking breakfast each month to showcase recipes that use commonly donated ingredients, such as bread and eggs, in creative ways. In between these community meals, Glory Hole staff is responsible for cooking all other meals using food donations.
Despite the garden’s successful harvests, the Glory Hole still struggles to feed all those in need. “The other day, we gave out 50 sack lunches in two hours,” said Boren.
The shelter also gives out food boxes, and supplies are always running short.
“Each day is different. One night we may have 90 people here, and another night we may have to serve 155 meals,” Monte said.
Monte said the community can support the Glory Hole’s efforts by continuing to make donations of canned goods, fresh produce, and unopened shelf-stable goods. He emphasized packaged foods need to be unopened.
“I hate to throw away food, but we have to follow the health code,” he said.
Dried beans and rice are a few examples of versatile staples that are nutritious and inexpensive.
“My main goal here is to be in the kitchen and to change people’s lives,” Monte said as he neatly arranged mushrooms, chopped onions, grated cheese, and a handful of beans on a whole wheat tortilla.
“Small things make a difference, like a few words of encouragement,” Boren said. “If you show people respect, they feel better and they come to respect you, too.”
The two men in the kitchen do their part to help others by preparing and serving healthy, tasty to those who need it the most.
“On our shift, everyone eats well,” Boren said proudly.
For more information about donating to the Glory Hole, call 586-4159 or stop by 247 South Franklin St. in downtown.
• Jennifer Nu is a freelance writer in Juneau. Contact her at email@example.com.