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Honor a life with a gift of food

Posted Sep 22 2008 11:05am

I just received a wonderful idea from my friend Cathy Berger Kaye, who has dedicated her life to service in all its various forms.  This idea demonstrates just how vital and wonderfully symbolic the gift of food can be -- if we can stop abusing it long enough to appreciate its true value.  I think we can all gain something valuable by embracing her idea and accepting her challenge.  Cathy lives in Los Angeles, but every one of us has a food bank or shelter somewhere near us.  Find the one closest to you and remind yourself what food is really good for: life.

Here is Cathy's letter:

Today is my mother’s birthday, the first since she passed away last February, and I have had a
sensational day celebrating her. This experience led me to sit down and compose this invitation to
women who live in Los Angeles, who all share a passion for service. Please know like any invitation
you can respond yes or no ... simply an invitation.

For as many years as I can remember, my mother would call me on the afternoon of her birthday
and tell me this. “Cathy, I just went to Costco and I bought giant bags of salad, lasagnas, and two
sheet cakes and I just delivered them to the food shelter. And all the people came out and helped
carry the food in. Then when they saw the sheet cake their eyes lit up. They were so excited,
especially about the sheet cake.” And we would talk about the details of Costco and the south
Florida weather that made unloading the car easy or a challenge, and I relished this annual talk.
When my mother passed away there was a moment when I wondered what I would do without her
on her birthday. The answer came immediately. Go to Costco. My friend Flori Shutzer just started
working at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and I asked her what place on the westside would
welcome a donation. She responded St. Joseph’s in Venice and I said of course!

If you are not familiar with St. Joseph’s, all I can say is WOW. They have a new three-month young
facility. For families in need, they have child care programs with a bright cheerful room with three
healthy meals served daily, a food pantry, arts and education programs for youth of all ages, and a
culinary training program with a shiny state of the art kitchen where after a six week program they
have a 70% job placement rate. And Bread and Roses, their restaurant that serves meals with dignity,
where clients enter and are seated café style at a table with a server who brings a multi-course meal.
One seating on Monday, three seatings Tuesday through Friday. The last Friday of the month they
serve birthday cake and sing Happy Birthday to any person celebrating that month.

I had a great time at Costco today. I had stepped into the movie Enchanted – everything felt
heightened as I selected the items Tiana Rideout, the volunteer coordinator of St Joseph’s Center
had mentioned: diapers, spaghetti, spaghetti sauce in cans, small packs of raw carrots, a large pack of
art paper (for the children’s program). And then the piece de resistance. It just happens to be the
end of the month. They said I could bring a sheet cake. Standing in front of the selection I was so
appreciative of this opportunity. And which cake did I select? A large white cake with chocolate
mousse filling decorated with deep blue and purple flowers and words in script: Happy Birthday!
After all was unloaded from my car, Tiana gave me a tour of the facility and of Bread and Roses –
both places enriched by the countless volunteers who appear so glad to be where they were at that
moment, as was I. Now, granted, I would prefer we did not need agencies of this type, that we had
in fact achieved a much more civil and civilized society where each person has the necessities to care
for themselves and their family with dignity but we are far from that place both in Los Angeles and
pretty much everywhere else. Then I knew that this day was the launch of something – in honor of
our mothers.

So I am inviting you to consider joining me as a founding member of Our Mothers’ Birthday – an
opportunity to honor our mothers who nurtured us by nurturing others and allowing them to do the
same. If during the month of your mother’s birthday you take on bringing a donation to St. Joseph’s
or a place of your choosing the contribution matters in several ways. We fill their pantries a bit more
and this is definitely needed – allowing the mothers who receive the bags of food to provide for
their loved ones in hard times. If a birthday cake is part of the donation, each bite nurtures that part
of a person who may not have gotten a hug in a while, and as cliche as that may sound, I believe it’s
true.

My ambition? To fill Our Mothers’ Birthday Calendar with a commitment that is ongoing all year
with at least one monthly donation. And if you care to participate and can’t do the shopping, I bet
someone would welcome doing so on your and your mother’s behalf.

I must acknowledge that this idea of course stand on the shoulders of others. One of the recipients
of this email and her daughter used to make and deliver cupcakes every month for a westside
shelter’s birthday celebration; I was always so moved by that story. Perhaps you already have ways to
reach out to others that are enough for you – granted I know every person on this list is part of the
solution already. Still I ask.

If you say yes, let me know what month to place you on the Calendar and where you will donate.
And I will be creating some way to make this easy and easier as the process moves along. Tana
Rideout is a fabulous young woman and will help us as well if you choose to work with St. Joseph’s.
I will also be contacting Costco to see if they will partner with us in any way.

And after I move in our new home (which will be in the next few weeks) and settle in, I will invite
you to an Our Mothers’ Birthday party! What fun!

You know, my mother and I both wear the same size shoe ... I can wear them but I don’t believe I
can fill them. However doing this with her and with all our mothers seems to be an exact fit.
Love to you and Happy Birthday!
Cathy

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