Needy Savor Bounty from White House Garden

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White House chef Sam Kass (left) and Michelle Obama teach kids about the figs they’ve just picked from the White House kitchen garden.

By Christy Ulmet

Over 350 meals are served to local homeless people each day from a single church basement, often with the same ingredients enjoyed by the First Family.

Miriam’s Kitchen serves breakfast and dinner Monday thru Friday, 365 days a year, according to Tom Murphy, director of communications at the DC nonprofit.

“I’m just very grateful Miriam’s is here. The food is prepared with love, and it shows. The staff cares, and it’s just a great place to come,” said Elizabeth Telson, who has been attending Miriam’s Kitchen for six months.

Guests of Miriam’s Kitchen have been enjoying the same food the First Family eats since 2009, when First Lady Michelle Obama volunteered for a shift with the meal program. From there, the White House formed a relationship with Miriam’s, and Obama began donating her pickings from the White House Kitchen Garden.

One of the more memorable deliveries, Murphy said, came last holiday season when Miriam’s received pumpkins from the White House. The fruit was used to create mini pumpkin pies for guests during Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner services.

Miriam’s receives roughly one shipment of food each month from the White House. The most recent delivery in October included 41 pounds of lettuce, 52 pounds of tomatoes, 29 pounds of zucchini and summer squashes and 39 pounds of eggplant, according to the Press Office of the First Lady.

October’s large delivery came from the help of around 25 kids who were chosen to help harvest the garden. Obama invited the children from schools, both local and as far away as California and Arizona, as a part of her “Let’s Move!” program. The movement was started in 2009 with the help of White House chef and senior advisor for nutrition Sam Kass, who is the program’s executive director.

Kass has had much involvement in Obama’s efforts to educate the nation’s youth on nutrition and leading healthier lives.

“We believe everyone deserves access to healthy and affordable food. Getting produce in everyone’s diet is incredibly important. That’s why it’s important to make sure organizations that are serving people in great need also have access to these healthy, nutritious foods,” Kass said in an interview with Street Sense.

Tariq Zayid El has been attending Miriam’s Kitchen on and off for two years. He noted how the meals always include the option of fruit salads or vegetable salads.

“They try to make it interesting so you’re not eating the same thing day in and day out,” Telson agreed.

Telson said she enjoys having salmon and cream cheese eggs with fruit smoothies for breakfast.

“Miriam’s works really hard to try to make it healthy and tasty. I think they really do a good job in trying to spruce it up. You don’t want to eat it if it doesn’t taste good. I don’t care how pretty it is!” Telson laughed.

Donations from the White House Kitchen Garden, as well as local farms and farmers markets, have allowed Miriam’s to keep offering a good variety of healthy foods, Murphy said.

Miriam’s Kitchen has been serving meals for 31 years. This fiscal year they served 78,000 meals and plan to serve 80,000 more in 2015.

Guests may benefit from more than the meal program, however. Miriam’s also offers open studio art therapy, creative writing groups, and yoga.

Zayid El has enjoyed attending the writing group and has become one of the more celebrated members of the group, said Telson. She explained that often, people go to the group just to hear Zayid El’s writing.

“This is really about ending chronic homelessness. The meals are an investment in forming relationships with our guests,” Murphy said.

He added that the goal of Miriam’s is to build trust with its guests so they can not only find a safe place to eat a meal, but they can also take care of their other daily needs.

Being able to provide nutritional foods during breakfast and dinner has been crucial in improving the lives of Miriam’s Kitchen’s guests.

“The meals are prepared with the nutrition of the guest, of the people, in mind. It’s not something that’s just put together–thrown on a plate in front of you. They go pretty far out of their way to make sure everyone is fed and no one is turned away,” Zayid El said.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 5 edition of Street Sense.

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