By Vyllorya Evans and Mary Wedgewood
Christine Spencer, president of the James Creek Resident Council, has assembled an amazing group of volunteers to distribute much-needed free meals to seniors and other vulnerable residents in the Old Southwest community. These volunteers must adhere to strict food sanitation practices, in addition to all the COVID-19 practices. To get all the materials needed to keep volunteers safe and healthy is a challenge. Six days a week these community members are at work setting up tables, canopies, handing out meals, and cleaning it all up at the end of the day.
For many people, including some of our homeless neighbors, this is a primary source of food during the pandemic. But it is about much more than food: It is volunteers checking up on community folks every day. It is the only human contact for many who live alone. And, it is community in the best sense of the word – love.
The meals, which are prepared by Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen, are picked up at Jefferson Middle School Academy and delivered to the James Creek Community Center by the Southwest Business Improvement District (SWBID) workers. These van drivers have shown up faithfully since early April with their nutritious cargo.
The James Creek location became a distribution point when Brother Steven X (with Training Grounds) observed that many children and older residents in Old Southwest were not getting over to the Jefferson site. He brought this to the attention of Ms. Spencer. She contacted Jeanne Mattison, Constituent Services counselor from the office of Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen. When that office intervened, James Creek also became a place where meals are distributed.
Community Outreach partners Brother Steven X, Lykeyia Lucas, and Resial “Bay Bay” Shannon (with D.C. Parks and Recreation) wanted to honor the dedicated volunteers of James Creek and the SWBID staff, and so a June 26 event was planned – a food fest, of course!
Menu for the event: fried whiting fish prepared by Bay Bay, ribs and chicken right off King Ribs BBQ grill, potato salad, summer Italian spaghetti salad, macaroni and tuna salad, green beans, pineapple baked beans, mac and cheese, fried and baked chicken, banana pudding, petite lemon cakes. And don’t forget the cinnamon rolls!
The SWBID workers who were being honored with this special meal included Andre Witt, Charlene Smith, Charlene Porter, Verna Lyes, Gregory Williams, Danny Jones, Anna Granados, Peron Williams, and Delontae Chola. The James Creek resident volunteers included Mary Thomas, Maria Morton, Joyce Jenkins, Thomasine Spencer, Annette Spencer, Sharon Easton, and Katrina Gaynor.
Naomi Mitchell, community liaison from the office of Councilmember Allen, shared in the festivities from the beginning to end. Thelma Jones, who coordinates the food distribution at River Park Mutual Homes, also joined in.
The free meals being distributed in the community are ready to eat and are individually packaged following strict food industry guidelines. People can just pick up a package and take it home to eat. The meals are well-balanced with protein, carbohydrates, a variety of vegetables; they are presented with eye-appeal; and they are delicious!
A recent box featured chicken breast prepared in the sous vide method: the meat vacuum sealed while fresh, the sealed package immersed in hot (not boiling) water and then cooked slowly for a long time. The chicken was tender, juicy, flavorful – and perfectly paired up with mixed vegetables, rice, and spicy sauce. Chef Kevin Cecilio assures us that Jose Andres is a big fan of the sous vide process, which is especially useful for achieving consistency across large projects without sacrificing nutritional value.
Generosity enables these wholesome meals to be prepared in the first place, and local community dedication makes them available to those who need them right here in Old Southwest. And, a potluck celebration among those giving, receiving, caring, and working together is a joyful thing!