— Written by Hannah Ziegler
The Meal Box crew on June 28. From left to right: Brenda Redinger, Loretta Kikot Molloy, Cheryl Levick, Cheryl Cash, Jennifer Morawetz, Sonya Woodroffe, Jack Miller
On any given weekday at Holy Blossom Temple, you are sure to see a bustling kitchen full of eager Ve’ahavta volunteers and staff, preparing food for the recently implemented Meal Box program.
Officially launched on June 19, the program is an extension of Ve’ahavta’s Mobile Jewish Response to Homelessness (MJRH), where volunteers deliver necessities including clothing, hygiene supplies and food, as well as provide companionship to those affected by poverty and homelessness in the city.
This is not your standard sandwich-making session though. Each day comprises of a different menu – today is Wednesday, and the kitchen carries the aroma of 70 grilled cheese sandwiches with spinach, cabbage and carrot salads, hard boiled eggs and fresh applesauce. The best part? Volunteers are being led by two Kitchen Coordinators who have previously been clients of our various programs (accompanied today by Ve’ahavta’s Community Engagement Coordinator Jennifer Morawetz).
“I have experience in the catering industry, so it’s my way of giving back to the community and to Ve’ahavta, because I really like the whole program,” says one of the Kitchen Coordinators, Loretta Kikot Molloy, as she lays out ingredients on the counter. “I’ve enjoyed all the programs that I’ve participated in.”
Loretta has been a part of the Renée Roth Memorial Speakers Bureau, along with the Ve’ahavta Street Academy (VSA) educational program. In fact, she met her co-coordinator, Sonya Woodroffe, through these programs.
“It feels like you’re giving back and you can also relate to some of the people that benefit from this program,” Sonya says.
Sonya and Loretta cut vegetables for the carrot and cabbage salad.
Though both Kitchen Coordinators have experience working with food, the backgrounds of the volunteers differ, making for a wonderful variety of cooks.
A new Ve’ahavta volunteer, Brenda Redinger, used to be a chef in Israel and was looking for a volunteer opportunity involving food here in Toronto.
Meanwhile, Cheryl Cash, a veteran MJRH volunteer, says that although she doesn’t have an extensive cooking background, the meaning behind the Meal Box opportunity intrigued her.
“I believe the philosophy behind it,” she says as she peels apples. “That just because you’re homeless doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to have food that is nutritious.”
Cheryl Cash prepares applesauce.
With an estimated 5,086 chronically homeless people in Canada and an average life expectancy of 39 (according to a report by Charity Intelligence Canada), healthy, prepared meals are a key benefit.
Aside from varying experiences with preparing food (and volunteering), one thing that everyone comes into the kitchen with is a common mindset; the desire to provide nutritious meals to people on the streets.
Brenda Redinger and Cheryl Levick are all smiles as they package 70 grilled cheese sandwiches for the oven.
Ve’ahavta Community Engagement Coordinator Sarit Cantor and lead for the Meal Box program sums it up: “When we increase the quality of the food we offer, it gives opportunities for clients to feel safe.”