Tag Archive | "nonprofit"

Soup kitchen serves healthy bites during recession


By MEGAN GIBSON and VADIM LAVRUSIK

Chef Michael Ennes sees the effects of the struggling economy every day.

Ennes, in charge of the soup kitchen at Broadway Community, Inc., at 601 W. 114th St. in Manhattan, said he has noticed the number of middle-class visitors at the kitchen increase.

“It’s so easy to fall off the edge,” he said. “Don’t need a cyclone — a breeze could push you off.”

Because of the recession, Broadway Community has become very popular, Ennes said, but the social service center has been able to serve hundreds weekly and has maintained its volunteer support.

BCI offers a soup kitchen on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as a food pantry that provides several low-income families with groceries each week and other services.

Chef Michael Ennes once owned a high-end restaurant in Manhattan, but decided that he wanted everyone to have great food available to them. (Photo Vadim Lavrusik)

Chef Michael Ennes once owned a high-end restaurant in Manhattan, but decided that he wanted everyone to have great food available to them. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

Ennes said while there is never a problem in getting food, the center is often strapped for cash to pay for kitchen supplies and utility bills.

Ennes, 57, is the food services, special projects and training director of BCI. He started at the center after the devastation of 9/11 led him to do some soul-searching. Ennes already had years of experience working as a chef in various restaurants, including a brief stint as an owner of his own restaurant, but the terrorist attack spurred him to reach out to the community. Realizing he could use his talents to help at the organization — just blocks from his Upper West Side home — he decided he wanted to transform the way the soup kitchen was run.

Faced with the task of feeding a lot of people, most soup kitchens structure their menus around canned foods. Ennes, however, said he was “constitutionally unable to do that.”

Instead, he said he focused on preparing healthy, restaurant-quality food for the center’s guests, using organic and sustainably grown foods. The soup kitchen always has a vegetarian alternative and Ennes privately calls Mondays “meatless Mondays.”

Although he has prepared dishes such as Mesopotamian meatloaf with apples, raisins and an almond cumin sauce, Ennes said that when it comes to his kitchen, “the point is not fancy, the point is nutrition.”

In addition to the soup kitchen and food pantry services, the center also has programs that demonstrate nutritious, inexpensive ways to cook the food they provide.

Ennes focuses the programs on three fundamental aspects of food preparation: nutrition education, culinary education and access to affordable, nutritious foods. The programs are designed to help people not only improve their daily eating habits but also to acquire skills that could help them find a job.

Yvonne Shields, a community chef at Broadway Community, is an example of how the program can help transform someone’s life. Shields said she wanted to give back to the program after experiencing homelessness herself just nine years ago.

She was homeless for 10 months, but got involved in some job training programs that the city provided, hoping to change her career path as a day care coordinator for private providers, without much luck.

She decided she wanted to become a chef and was able to after stumbling across Broadway Community. She completed the Food and Nutrition Training Awareness Program, better known as FANTAP, at the center. The six-week vocational food program, taught by Ennes, trained Shields in nutrition, sanitation and meal service as well as covered the $105 cost of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Department Food Protection test, which greatly improves the chances of getting hired in a restaurant.

Shields, who is now retired and lives in the Bronx, gives back to Broadway Community by volunteering her time, teaching others the cooking skills she learned. She recently did a cooking presentation, including all the produce that was being given out by the center that evening. The dish for the night: pan roasted corn and tomato salad.

T.A. Johnson, 44, was helping her with the demonstration by “prepping”— cutting up the vegetables and gathering the ingredients for the chef.

Though he isn’t homeless, Johnson is in need and has gone through “hard times,” which is why he volunteers at the center. He said often times it is difficult to get enough food as a single man at other centers. “Unless you got a bunch of kids, they barely give you anything,” he said.

The produce served at the center is some of the freshest that Johnson said he has ever seen out of any local soup kitchens. The quality of the produce is why he has kept coming back, Johnson said.

A Monday food pantry at the Broadway Community Center (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik).

A Monday food pantry at the Broadway Community Center. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

The abundance of food given out is the reason Shirley Ashworth, 61, made her way from the Bronx, despite knee and ankle injuries. “I heard the pantry was going to be really big tonight,” Ashworth said, sitting down to take a rest from the stairs and tend to her hurting ankle.

Ashworth said that in 1999, she spent the year living in her car. Broadway helped her with food and other services provided her with housing support.

“I got back on my feet, until I fell down the stairs in my apartment and broke my ankle and hurt my knee,” she said. “Now I’m just trying to stay up.”

Like Ashworth, many people facing unfortunate personal circumstances are under the additional stress of an unstable economy. However, despite the increasing number of guests visiting the center, Ennes remains optimistic that Broadway Community’s programs can help people deal with hardships.

The programs are not merely handouts, he said, but are intended to use “food as a tool to help people rebuild their lives.”

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Brooklyn eat-in potluck raises awareness on school food


The participants could write letters to Congress   Photo Credit: Isabelle Schäfer

Participants were encouraged to write letters to Congress. (Photo credit: Isabelle Schäfer)

By ISABELLE SCHÄFER

On a sunny Labor Day, the P.S. 9 Teunis G. Bergen School in Brooklyn isn’t deserted.  Instead, tables with oatmeal biscuits, quinoa salads and plum tarts are arranged in the schoolyard. Around 50 parents, teachers and children have gathered to share homemade dishes and to hear about nutrition in schools. A painted cardboard letterbox invites letters to Congress.

This “Eat-In,” arranged by the nonprofit organization Slow Food, is trying to raise awareness about the nutrition situation in schools and show support for the Child Nutrition’s Act which expires on Sept. 30. It’s just one of the 300 initiatives launched all around the country as part of the group’s  ”Time for lunch” campaign.

“It’s really for anyone who likes good food,” said Heather Teige, an intern at Slow Food, which started the Eat-Ins last year in San Francisco and added many more this year.  The program stresses the government’s investment in school food. President Obama has proposed a $1 billion annual increase for Child Nutrition Act programs, but such reforms still have to be discussed in Congress.

“There are really three main agendas to be tackled: health, environment and hunger,” said Professor Janet Poppendieck, who will soon release a book on school food, “Free for All.” “Health is the one highest on the radar screen. There are still ridiculous standards in cafeterias and vending machines. You just can’t sell soda pops and marshmallows like that!” Poppendieck said, while helping herself to whole wheat pasta.

Children learnt about fresh food

Schoolchildren tried fresh vegetables and acknowledged the different taste. (Photo credit: Isabelle Schäfer)

Maria Mcgrath has two of her children in the Bergen school. “The cafeteria here is basically a re-heating station. My child wouldn’t even eat the vegetables, they are so bland,” she said. Her daughter now prepares her own lunch at home. Asked about the school food, the nine-year old just makes a face. Her mother would like to see more fresh salads. “The food is OK, but really nothing children are excited about,” Mcgrath said.

Older students have already decided to act. Marcia Foster gets up to tell those at the Bergen school about her high school project. With 15 of her comrades of the Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment, she grew lettuce, spinach and tomatoes in the borough’s Botanical Garden. The teenagers then offered the harvested vegetables to their school, who prepared lunch with the fresh ingredients.

“My friends actually liked salads for the first time!” Marcia, an 11th grader, said. “Usually, our school serves burgers and fries, and the packed salads are in the back. But they really don’t look good or fresh.”

Her project was part of an elective course. “They learn about food politics and agriculture,” said Marcia’s teacher, Irene Shen.  Now Marcia says she is more aware of her environment. “I think it’s really important to know where the food comes from,” she said.

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