April 30, 2014

Feed People

I’ve had a thought bubbling in my head since last night sometime. It may be a thing some pagan/polytheist groups are already doing, I don’t know. The Hare Krishnas used to do it on FSU campus, though, and I think it would be an excellent pagan charitable thing to de, to demonstrate hospitality to the community and devotion to the gods.

Feed people.

Once a week, some of you get together, cook up some simple food — a lot of it, fifty to a hundred meals’ worth — go to some busy space, like a park or a community center (the HKs used the student union courtyard), set up tables, and give it away. Free. Just… feed people.

It’s not a thing I could organize any time soon. It needs resources I don’t currently have. But I’d like to, someday, and in the mean time, maybe somebody else will see this and do it.

Here’s what you’d need to get started:

Catering equipment, like <a href=http://www.amazon.com/Winware-Stainless-Steel-Chafer-Full/dp/B0018QJA8I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1398921427&sr=8-1&keywords=chafing+dish>chafers, sterno, hotel pans and covers, serving spoons, at least 4 of each, wide foil, wide plastic wrap
Somebody with a van or SUV to deliver it
Long tables
Disposable service: paper plates, utensils, napkins
Staple foods, seasonings
A kitchen or two to cook it in

For a menu, keep it extremely simple and cheap. Rice pilaf, which can be made right in the hotel pans, holds well, and is dead cheap. Rice, oil, onion, seasonings, and stock, broth or water. Use vegetable stock, and it’s vegan. In the hotel pan, on 2 burners, sweat the onion in the oil. Add the rice, cook the rice in the oil until it turns a little translucent. Add liquid and any other seasonings, cover with foil, stick it in a hot oven. Anybody wants a full recipe, I’ll get it for them. Then some simple vegetarian protein source, like beans or a lentil or chickpea stew. Again, very cheap; again, cooked right in the hotel pan. Lots of recipes out there. I’ll help find them, if anybody wants to do this. And… that’s it. Dish it up on paper and give ‘em each a plastic spoon (compostable, of course). Some of the people who come to eat will have money, although many won’t, so put a contribution box at the end. There’s, oh, $200-500 startup cost for the equipment and tables (although if you go to a community center, they may have tables), and you can make the food for under a dollar a serving. (Seriously, I could even go do the costing on these recipes. And you can buy a lot of this equipment used at restaurant supply stores.)

You can makes a lot of food in a home kitchen. If you’re serving a lot, you might want to make it in two kitchens. Maybe you’ve got CUUPS people and the local UU congregation has a big kitchen you can use. Do at least two pans of each thing. An 8qt hotel pan holds, oh, 30-40 servings, depending on how much you're figuring per serving.

At first, you can’t have more pans of food to serve than you have chafing dishes, because, especially when you already have to transport it, it’s too hard to keep it hot enough for safety. (You must keep it either under 40F or over 140F to prevent nasty things from breeding in it and making people sick.) Later, if this gets rolling really well, maybe you can get a grant or donation from somebody (like Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which donates the proceeds from its books to various charities) or hold a funding drive to get a heated transport cabinet like caterers use, and then you can make more and keep serving longer. Maybe some hot beverage urns and/or drinks coolers to provide beverages, too. Hot tea on a cold day is a good thing! Or a cold drink on a hot one!

You only need a couple of people to do the cooking, and 3-4 to serve. It’s not difficult work. But it’s a huge good that can be done.

If I were going to do it, I would name it, oh, Hestia’s Hearth. I’d put a QRCode for a website with info at the bottom of the sign, but otherwise not advertise who we are. There would be no religious material out, no preaching at anyone, and the only answer to “Who are you people?” would be “Hestia’s Hearth. We’re here to feed people.” And that’s it. If people wanted to know more, they could go to the website.

Feeding people. Hospitality. Really, the one is the core of the other, to me, the most basic thing you can do to provide hospitality. Hospitality to the community, rather than to individuals, in this case. Some of the people you feed will be homeless, some very poor, some merely broke that day, and some will have plenty of money and just think the food smells good. It doesn’t matter. They’re there. Feed them. Feed people. It’s so simple.

Seriously, if anyone wants to do this for real, contact me and I'll help with logistics and budgeting.

UPDATE: A reminder about getting your permits.