During our final dinner together in Calais, our trip leader asked us to sum up our experience at the @refugeecommunitykitchen over the previous five days in one word. Having just spent the evening serving food to the refugees in Dunkirk, I couldn’t quite come up with anything.
However, on the 3 hour drive from Calais to Paris as I was trying to process everything we had done and seen, the word finally came to me: Humbled
Our team spent four days in the warehouse kitchen helping the other long-term volunteers produce food for 1200-1800 people each day. We spent 11-14 hours each day chopping, slicing, stirring, carrying, pitting, scrubbing, washing, cleaning, and of course, baking.
Each of us joined a team to distribute food in either Calais or Dunkirk. We stood in the cold and rain for about 3 hours serving food to ~500 refugees.
It was an intense, exhausting, and cold week for our team…both physically and emotionally draining. But it was only four days in the four-year history of RCK (who has only ever missed serving lifesaving meals three days since its inception).
I look in amazement at the long-term volunteers who have spent weeks, months, even years working in the kitchen making this quantity of food every day regardless of the cold weather…I am humbled by their dedication, compassion, and selflessness as they put their own lives on hold to help others
As I left distribution in Dunkirk, I went back to our hotel for a hot shower and a comfortable bed. I look in awe at the refugees who have been “sleeping rough” for who knows how long with no end in sight. Men, women and children who sleep outside with no protection from the frigid cold, blustery wind or pouring rain. I am humbled by their fortitude, endurance, and perseverance as they live each day in dangerous conditions with the hope that they can find a new place to call home.
#culanthropy #culinarycorps #cookingforcalais #humbled
DAY 1: We kicked off our day in the Warehouse, home to the @refugeecommunitykitchen daily food production for nearly 2,000 mixed refugee encampments in Dunkirk, Calais, and Brussels. Many people have asked me who makes up the refugee population and they are Syrians, Kurds from Syria and Iraq, West Africans, Eritreans, and Pashtuns from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The numbers are constantly in flux as refugees move in and out and the camps are raided/evacuated by crowd and riot control police.
Fresh salad, curries of all kinds, and fragrant rice is produced and distributed daily by RCK’s volunteers. Today our team assisted with the production of lentil and parsnip curry with fried lemons, basmati rice infused with curry leaves, and a salad of fresh lettuces with beets. We also produced the volunteer meal which included a noodle, broccoli and cabbage stirfry with fresh cilantro, a cabbage, apple and celeriac slaw, and guacamole with tortilla chips.
After we rocked out the dishpit, scrubbed and organized the kitchen, we put more than 100 kg of chickpeas on to soak for tomorrow’s main and hummus.
Tomorrow we are also working on a few special cooking projects for RCK (including sticky toffee pudding!) and we will start to join the food distribution to the camps.
DAY 2: Today was an exhausting but productive and emotional day @refugeecommunitykitchen. Team @culinarycorps started the day on several projects, including making 100 liters of hummus, shopping for the ingredients for sticky toffee pudding then scaling all the mise en place, breaking down all the racks in the walk-in, washing all the shelves and floors, and then reorganizing all the production, clocking time in the dishpit, picking parsley, and spending time on the hot line learning the base for the curries.
In the afternoon/early evening some of us went out on food distribution in Dunkirk, where we served rice, chickpea curry, a green salad, water, and hot sweetened tea to approximately 500 refugees – primarily Kurds. There are no official “camps” due to raids, forced evacuations, etc, though there are specific distribution areas for food, as well as care from medical volunteers and other support from the Red Cross. The refugees are “sleeping rough”, which means they are sleeping outside with nothing to protect them from the weather. It was horribly windy and very cold, and it poured rain. We fed primarily young and adult men, but also some women and children.
DAY 3: @culinarycorps rocked out a busy day of vegetable prep at @refugeecommunitykitchen including cases of onions, leeks, garlic, ginger, cauliflower, potatoes and sweet potatoes, plus cooking off nearly 250 kg of broad beans for the Chorba on Thursday.
Two more of us went out on food distribution in Calais, serving approximately 400 refugees a warm meal of rice, sweet potato and leek curry, fresh salad and bread. The hummus and vegan mayo (made with aquafaba) were both huge hits!
The team also took a quick field trip to the Metro, a restaurant supply store nearby. After a full kitchen clean up, the team stayed late at the Warehouse to bake off the date cakes and made the toffee for the sticky toffee pudding which will be packaged and served to the refugee population tomorrow.
We ended the evening with a “picnic” dinner in the hotel room of French cheeses, pate, saussicon sec, bread, baby carrots, strawberries, and a glass of French wine.
Tomorrow is a big day of distribution in Brussels, and is also Chorba day. @ Calais, France
DAY 4: Today was @culinarycorps final day of service at the @refugeecommunitykitchen Warehouse. We finished baking off our second batch of date cakes and glazed them with toffee sauce. We cut and packaged 1,300 individual portions for distribution to the refugees at Dunkirk and Calais. We peeled and sliced nearly 400 pounds of onions, cut pumpkins for tomorrow’s pasta, and prepped lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes for the salad. I spent a good amount of time minding/stirring the pots of chorba and Afghan beans (made with the broad beans cooked yesterday along with red kidney beans). We cleaned, and manned the dishpit.
Some of us went on distribution to Dunkirk where we served more than 450 refugees in the bitter cold.
Our brief time here is but a blip in the nearly 4-year story of RCK’s commitment to serving thousands of people lifesaving hot meals 7 days a week with dignity and compassion, with a completely volunteer staff of amazing young people who put their own lives on hold to do this incredibly hard work. I leave here feeling both despair and hope.
Now that I’ve had a few days to digest… I’m still not 100% sure where to begin. For this year’s @culinarycorps trip, six of us spent a week volunteering at @refugeecommunitykitchen. Before I left for this trip I was trying to explain why I was doing it to some of my cooks. Why I would use vacation time to go to work somewhere else. I told them that as hard as we work, with long hours, bad backs, few thanks, it is important to keep in perspective that everything we strive for is to provide luxury to people. But we have the ability to use our skills to do more.
I spent my time this last week chopping onions, stirring rice, washing pots, and other seemingly mundane tasks. But every part of this was not so someone could impress a client or woo a loved one. I briefly got to be part of an organization who grinds every day (for over 4 years now) just to make sure that people have a meal to eat, something that might help keep them warm for the many cold nights to come, something to give them strength until they can hopefully be reunited with the people they love.
On the one evening that I went out to actually serve food I wasn’t exactly sure what I had to expect. But it wasn’t clear to me exactly how much like me these “refugees” would be. I don’t want to go on and on about the conditions these men, women, and children are braving just to survive. I just want to say thank you to @refugeecommunitykitchen for letting me be a part of something so obscenely important. I want to say thank you to my friends who take time and put aside all they have to volunteer with @culinarycorps. You people will never stop inspiring me.
And I want to remind you all to cherish the luxuries that you may not even remember to consider. I hope none of you EVER have to fight for a meal. I couldn’t be more grateful to be able to come home to @sam_krouse and all that we have. If you can, whatever you can, please find some way to chip in to organizations like these. There’s no shortage of people in this world who need just a little bit of what you can spare. #bethechangeyouwanttoseeintheworld #culanthropy @ Calais, France
It takes me a while to process my feelings and thoughts in general. However, when reflecting on my time at RCK @refugeecommunitykitchen , the three words that constantly come to mind are: love, intense, and humbling. Why love? I think love is the ultimate state of mind when faced with dire situations. Our role during this time is just to listen and serve unconditionally. The refugees that I interacted with were very pleasant for the most part. I knew some of them were having a bad day, but I should not hold that against them. At all. One interaction was rather unpleasant, but I knew they needed someone to vent to. They are in a place where only hope can keep them alive. Listening, serving, and bringing hope are all characteristics of love.
Their environment- both physically and mentally is absolutely intense. The current climate in France is cold and rainy. I don’t know where these people seek shelter. Especially the family I helped serve with the 10-12 year old boy. His life is forever changed; not fully knowing the joys of childhood. I can only imagine how much growing up they had to do in so little time.
Humble. I am beyond humbled with this experience. At one point I felt very guilty for “coming home” to a room and shower; “coming home” to a group of friends to have dinner and chat about our day; “coming home” to relaxing and unwinding. Their lives are at a constant 100%. They are always hitting the ground running – quite literally as they are chased off by police on a daily basis.
Organizations like RCK provide an opportunity for people like me and @culinarycorps with any assistance. We were a very small drop in the bucket, but that help provided loads of motivation for both parties. We provided guidance and some heavy lifting to the long term volunteers. We provided extra hands as the organization loses volunteers during the winter months. Ultimately, we provided extra ears for those that needed to be heard.
Of course, I would like to serve with this organization again, but I also hope this situation ends very soon as well. #culanthropy