Giving Back!

About a month ago, I started cooking breakfast once a week at a local homeless shelter. It’s been really challenging at times (waking up early, cooking for many), but it’s also been really fun and I’m starting to look forward to it every week.

So I thought I’d take a post and talk a bit about how I wound up with the gig and also go through some of the things I’ve made!

It Started With a Dinner

Betsy’s office hosts a dinner at the local homeless shelter once every few months and I went and helped out with the last one. I was blown away at the resources in this shelter. They had a top of the line kitchen with very nice Imperial stoves and ovens.

This, of course, is necessary when you’re feeding up to 200 people per meal.

So I made a mental note to reach out to the shelter and see if they needed any help cooking meals.

Many Months Later…

I definitely procrastinated on this, but eventually I got around to calling them up and scheduling a meeting with their volunteer coordinator. It’s not like I really had to apply for the job, but I think they wanted to make sure I was comfortable with the kitchen and with the number of people I’d be feeding.

After a brief chat, I was on the calendar. Every Tuesday. Cooking for about 90-100 people. By myself.

In short, it’s almost like I run a restaurant once a week that only serves breakfast and only has one thing on the menu which is whatever I feel like cooking on that day.

The Challenges

As you can imagine, there are a few challenges that come along with something like this.

Schedule – The shelter closes during the day so all of the people that stay there have to be out by 8AM. Breakfast needs to be served at 6:45 sharp. If I’m late, they go hungry. I’d say this is the most stressful part for me and generally means that I get there at around 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning to make sure I have plenty of time to get stuff prepped.

Supplies – I pretty much have open reign on whatever is available in the pantry on any given week. I can use anything I can find to make a warm, tasty breakfast. It’s a challenge for sure to find ways to feed 100 people every week, but so far I think I’m doing well.

My general rule is just to keep it simple. It also helps that I’m pretty decent at making things from scratch because they always have stuff like eggs, flour, sugar, milk, etc.

I also cheat occasionally and bring a few “bonus” things which I buy out of my own pocket to make the meal a little better. This is usually a special condiment or topping that they might not normally get like sour cream, cheese, or brown sugar. It costs me a few bucks but it’s worth it to give them something they don’t normally get.

Math – It turns out that it’s not always easy to multiple a recipe by 50 or 100. It sounds simple enough but the logistics of it can get pretty difficult, especially when I’m a one man show. For example, I’m getting really good at cracking eggs because I crack about 150 if I want scrambled eggs.

The Meals!

Here’s the four meals that I’ve made on my own since I’ve been working at the shelter! I would say that all of them turned out surprisingly well!

Breakfast Tacos – Eggs scrambled with sausage. Served with warm tortillas, sour cream, salsa, and cheese.

French Toast Casserole – My most ambitious meal so far. Eggs, milk, cinnamon, syrup, and nutmeg mixed with sugar and poured over crusty, stale bread. This casserole was so huge, it took about 2 hours to bake! I also made some (10 dozen) corn muffins while I waited for the casserole to cook.

Breakfast Sandwiches – Eggs scrambled with cheese, sausage patties (made by hand) and 200 pieces of toast.

Cinnamon Oatmeal with Bacon – This was the easiest meal I’ve made so far. About 40 cups of oatmeal cooked with a gallon of milk and a few gallons of water. Seasoned with cinnamon and served with butter and brown sugar. I made a bunch of bacon also.

The Weirdest Thing I’ve Seen

I expected to see some weird things while doing this, but this shocker took me by surprise one day and made me feel like I was in The Twilight Zone.

Someone apparently donated crates and crates of eggs, all of which had double yolks! They were totally fine to use, but just kind of creepy!


What It’s About

Of course, what this is all about is the people. I had some misconceptions about the types of people that might be at a homeless shelter in a Colorado town, but what I’ve learned is that it doesn’t take much. A lost job. Medical bills. Or just a string of bad luck.

A good number of people who stay at the shelter actually work during the day which was a shock to me! They have jobs, but for whatever reason still can’t afford a place to stay. It’s very sad to see (especially the families), but at the same time it’s really rewarding to be able to give them a warm, hopefully tasty meal to start their day off.

Because their days will undoubtedly be harder than mine even though I woke up at 3:30AM.

So it’s the least I can do.

If anyone has any stories about volunteering or tips on how to get involved, please leave a comment!

20 comments on “Giving Back!

  1. I LOVE this! wow.
    As someone that depended on the kindnesses of friends and strangers for just over a year recently I can say that this kind of energy out in the world is a ripple effect. Now that my family is getting back on their feet we work hard to reach out to others. I imagine those that you help, when they can, will do the same as they now know the feeling. And it's a good feeling.
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  2. Way to go Nick! I can always give you a few tips to make your life easier… I do it for a living, after all! I am glad to see you giving back. It is a humbling experience, and yes, you are right – it is not easy to scale recipes. If you ever are interested, shoot me an email. I have a book called "Food for 50" that is right up your alley – and would have recipes that actually are scaled to industrial sizes. (Meaning you could feed 800 with the same recipe.)
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  3. First off, you are brave to cook for so many people by yourself. I couldn't even wrap my brain around it! I don't think they'd like what I'd manage to pull off LOL

    I'd love to start volunteering somewhere, but I'm still on the search for something that will work with a 4 and 5 year old. I would need to bring them along because I'm a single mom PLUS I think it's good for them to learn to focus on someone besides themselves. I know we'll find something fantastic eventually!
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  4. Hey Nick, I'm a long time reader, first time commenter. Just wanted to say how great I think it is that you're doing this, and how glad I am that you're sharing the experience. Please keep us posted on how it goes! Have you gotten any feedback on your meals from the people at the shelter? Which was the most successful or popular meal that you've served?

    1. They've all gone over pretty well. I've learned that scrambled eggs with cheese in them is pretty much a surefire success.

  5. Great job Nick! New wife- new dog- now volunteering- happy to see if you put positive in you get positive out– it feels great doesn't it :) Nothing is ever easy- but the rewards make it worth it. I have recently started volunteering with a couple nature groups in Florida- we are helping rebuild the water ways and helping the seabirds. It is such a great help and experience to be involved and help out where ever we can. Bravo!

  6. As a chicken raiser, is that a word?, when the chickens are "new" at laying eggs, we get all kinds of weird eggs. I suspect, that all the double yolk eggs come from a commercial raiser of young chicks! The strangest one I have seen at my house was a double yolk in an almost rubber, read, very, very thin shell! It was kind of fun gathering eggs every day, I even found myself going out several times a day when I was home to see what kind of treasures we would have! Keep up the good work, volunteering is a wonderful feeling.
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  7. I buy extra large eggs at Whole Foods. local. Almost every egg is a double yolk. Strange huh.

    Good for you for doing this. It will be life changing, yours more than theirs, and that is the exciting part of giving.

    I have been a volunteer for many years in many places, but recently did five years coordinating all volunteers for a huge race that benefited children. The strangest call I ever got was a volunteer who wanted their sister to help, only don't be her near money, she's was convicted of armed robbery. She robbed a bank. Uh, I let that volunteer go.

    Now I want to do something more like you, food focused, where my heart is. If we lived in the same area, I'd help you. I would be way too nervous to make that much food myself. The stories are gripping. Imagine going to work and living in a shelter. Prayers go out for folks in this situation.

  8. Awesome Nick! That’s what I call walking the walk. My husband and I do some volunteer work with food shelters. My husband is on the board for The Urban Farmers, whose goal is to harvest residential fruit trees and donate the fruit to local food banks in the San Francisco Bay Area. Not sure about Colorado, but the Bay Area is full of backyard fruit trees that produce more frut than owners can eat, so the fruit falls to the ground and is wasted. Residents can register their trees on the web site and The Urban Farmers volunteers come to homes, harvest the trees, leave some fruit for the owner, and donate the rest to food banks. The web site is Siamack Sioshansi heads up the organization, and his goal is to distribute the free program that will allow other communities to replicate the process. The double yolks are definitely creepy. Makes me think the chickens were fed some sort of growth hormone to speed up their egg production.

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