With just a few ingredients, you can make a unique meal that most will enjoy.
Last year, approximately 34,000 of those meals were provided for those in need by the Astoria Rescue Mission.
The food is donated to the mission and purchased from food banks, allows the mission to feed 30 or more people for breakfast, lunch and dinner at its 62 W. Bond St. location.
Although food bank purchases are cheaper than the grocery store, the costs of providing three meals a day can still add up.
“It still costs a lot to feed that many people,” said Dave Newman, executive director of the mission.
But the service is desperately needed for those out of work, overcoming addiction or on their way somewhere else to find work.
With the economic downturn, the mission has seen more people out of work and struggling for a bite to eat. Newman works in construction and knows that many workers can’t find work on a housing or building project. He said many come from other areas in the hope of finding work on the coast, but end up homeless and unable to find employment.
“It’s tough out there in this recession,” he said.
The majority of the meals served at the mission go to men and women in a rehabilitation program.
“People come in from all walks of life,” Newman said. “Mainly because they get involved in drugs or alcohol.”
The mission has a house for men and a separate house for women who are recovering from addiction. The program requires them to be in full compliance and in drug treatment. Some are mandated to the program by a judge.
The program lasts from six months to two years and includes training to attain gainful employment. Newman said they even teach members how to write a resume and apply for jobs.
There are also those in need of a meal who are passing through. Newman estimates that two to three stay for a meal each week, on their way somewhere else, often looking for a job. About 10 come off the street for a regular meal throughout the week.
The house can be a packed gathering spot when the number reaches 40 for the dinner meal. Those attending listen to a sermon during a chapel service, then eat dinner at about 7:30 each night.
Jeremy Baal is the recent head cook of the kitchen operation. He worked in restaurants in Seattle before making his way to Seaside in the hopes of a job there. The opportunity fell through and he found himself without any income.
James Dunlap, who manages the rescue’s houses, invited Baal to the mission.
“The Lord provides everything,” Dunlap said, who walks with a casual swagger and has tattoos on his arms and around his neck.
Dunlap is a former drug addict who now has a wife with a baby on the way. “I wanted to change my life,” he said about his addiction. “And I just wanted to give it to the Lord.”
Trying things out
Baal said they try to make something everyone will like, using whatever ingredients occupy the pantry shelves at the time. While spending time cooking in restaurants, he had a chance to try things out and see what worked, a skill he now uses at the rescue mission.
He’s been in charge of the kitchen for a relatively short month and a half, but it’s included a busy time of year. For the Thanksgiving meal, Baal cooked turkeys, hams and much more, staying in the kitchen from noon until the end of the day.
Assisting with meal preparation is Jah Morrison Kaloko, who is from Liberia. He left his country after many years of civil war. The recipes he develops are often influenced by the meals he remembers from his home country. The results are well-received by those at the rescue mission.
“Whatever he cooks is a specialty,” said Newman.
The executive director said that the meals are contingent on what they have in the pantry, allowing the cooks to work with whatever they can. But that doesn’t make it any less appealing.
“With random things you can make something really good,” Newman said.
The cooks are in the kitchen most of the day working on each meal and they don’t eat until everyone else has, Newman said.
“They are the most amazing kitchen staff I’ve had,” he said.
Any leftovers from dinner meals get incorporated into the next breakfast or lunch. The mission also delivers meals and food boxes to those who can’t make it to the house.
Newman said he plans to put out an appeal asking people for their own recipes with limited ingredients and also share some of the unique recipes that have been put together at the mission.
The rescue mission works with local churches and receives donations from them as well. Since almost everything is donated, Newman is trying to find ways to cut down on costs for the mission.
A major expense is the water bills for the men and women’s houses that can add up to $1,000 a month. He plans to propose a street cleaning service of Astoria streets in exchange for a utility relief program. He plans to get in touch with other nonprofits to see if they would like to be involved, as well.
Many in the program already do street clean-ups and help with fix-ups and repairs for elderly or disable members of the community.
Pretty soon the mission will be getting a new freezer, which has been donated. There are already some in the basement that keep bread and meat frozen for future use.
“Its all donation based,” Newman said. But he adds, “It’s gotten a little bit tighter,” to make everything work.
This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.