California Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units served millions of meals after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, but the challenges seemed almost as daunting on Thanksgiving Day 2015 in Fresno.
Just how does one cook sticky rice?
“People love our food, but we want to cook for the palate of the people we’re serving, and their palates say Southeast Asian,” said Don Hargis, pastor of Faith Community Baptist Church and a California Southern Baptist Disaster Relief coordinator.
The organization began a planned three-week stay at the Summerset Village apartment complex in central Fresno, where residents have been without heat and hot water for two weeks. But they quickly fell behind schedule as food preparation took longer than expected. A planned noon meal was soon looking at a 1 p.m. serving time.
As the Southern Baptist group ramped up, the annual Thanksgiving meal at the Poverello House worked like a well-oiled machine, chef Tito Olazabal said.
People love our food, but we want to cook for the palate of the people we’re serving, and their palates say Southeast Asian.
Don Hargis, pastor of Faith Community Baptist Church and a California Southern Baptist Disaster Relief coordinator
The Poverello House served 600 meals through both breakfast and lunch, with help from 100 volunteers – 40 for the first shift, 40 for the second shift and 20 more who showed up at 4:30 a.m. to get things going.
“We kept them busy,” Olazabal said.
Together, the organizations fed those who are struggling in Fresno.
Poverello officials noted that the prolonged drought has forced many to seek assistance at Poverello House who never had to before.
At the same time, the organization said turkey donations are down this year. A goal of 2,000 turkeys was set because of the increased demand, but likely less than half that number were donated. Normally, Poverello House receives between 1,000 and 1,500 turkeys during the holiday season.
It was a different situation at Summerset Village, where residents suddenly found themselves unable to cook and bathe after the natural gas lines were shut off because of unsafe conditions within the complex. The nonprofit organization brought a large generator, two shower trailers each holding six showers, and a large cooking unit.
“The big thing is we don’t normally cook raw food,” Hargis said. “When we do a disaster, everything comes in canned and we spice it up. We make it taste really good. Rarely, rarely, rarely do we do this type of cooking. So we’re in a learning mode right now.”
Southeast Asian residents and volunteers were chipping in with cooking advice, and Hargis expected things to run better in the coming days. “First day is first day,” he said.
Instead of spending Thanksgiving at home I come spend my Thanksgiving where I can help.
Thay Moua of Sanger, a volunteer Thursday at Summerset Village
As with the Poverello House, there was no shortage of volunteers, though officials hope they keep coming to Summerset Village after Thanksgiving Day.
One volunteer was Sanger resident Thay Moua, cutting beef to cook with vegetables.
“I heard about the issue that is going on and how desperate people are right here because they don’t have gas. So instead of spending Thanksgiving at home I come spend my Thanksgiving where I can help,” he said.
All around Moua, volunteers cut meat and vegetables. When the food was ready, Mel Collins was ready to serve.
The pastor of Faith Community Baptist Church said he “just decided to come out and help. We got a call that there was a need, so hey, here I am. I’d rather be out here before we sit around and have our meal.”
At the Poverello House, the meals were very traditional. Breakfast was burritos with eggs and potatoes; pastries; fruit; coffee; juice; and milk. Lunch was roasted turkey; stuffing; mashed potatoes and gravy; yams; green beans; corn; bacon; bread; and salad. For dessert: pies.
At Summerset Village, there was tradition, too; it just wasn’t turkey and stuffing.
“We don’t usually cook sticky rice,” Hargis said. “But that’s what we’re wanting to do and we’re not even equipped. So we’re trying to figure out how to do it.”