I’ve told you before that I’m one of three presidents of a club called Roof Over Our Heads at my school that helps to combat homelessness in Madison. We volunteer at Savory Sunday serving hot meals to those in need and also at REAP Farm-to-School to educate school children about sustainable agriculture (which doesn’t really combat homelessness…but I’ve volunteered there for a good three years now and I thought I’d get my club involved), but mainly we focus on planning an annual spring benefit concert, the proceeds of which we donate to Porchlight, an amazing organization that provides emergency shelter, food, employment services, counseling, and affordable transitional and permanent housing to homeless people in the Dane County area.
A helping hand, not a hand out. A second chance. A warm bed. Hope. Opportunity.
This is what Porchlight is all about.
Last night, my co-president Mira (who you may remember from our outing to Alchemy Cafe) and I attended the 2011 Porchlight Annual Recognition Dinner which “gives the community a chance to recognize individuals that have successfully overcome significant obstacles to escape homelessness.” A veteran recovering from alcoholism who has remained sober for almost three years, another veteran who severely hurt his back in the war and found himself homeless and jobless upon return to the states from his debilitating injury, parents of eight children who fought through intense poverty to provide education for their family, a woman with manic depression and a lengthy crime record that turned her life around, and a man suffering from bipolar disorder and previous substance abuse that attended college after working with Porchlight all shared their inspirational stories of how Porchlight has saved their lives and opened their hearts. Usually, I shy away from sappy feel-good movies and uplifting articles in the morning paper, but discovering the extreme extent to which Porchlight aids the homeless of Madison instilled a sense of genuine gratefulness for the fortunate and easygoing lifestyle I can lead without worrying about when I can eat my next meal or where I’ll sleep that night. After last night, I felt prouder than ever to lead a club that benefits this astounding organization.
Needless to say, I documented my meal (how could I call myself a food blogger if I hadn’t?). I had to request a vegan option in advance and held incredibly low expectations, preparing myself for overcooked pasta, the staple food to which chefs inexperienced with meat-and-dairy-free cuisine turn. Upon entering the dining hall, Mira and I found a small plate of salad already sitting before us. While the prospect of stale salad, plopped upon the white tablecloth who knows how many minutes prior, appealed to me in absolutely no manner, my appetite (accustomed to supping promptly at 6:00, an hour earlier than this) took charge as I scarfed down the dowdy little plate of slightly wilted romaine, grated carrots, a single insipid tomato wedge, and a lone kalamata olive, all dressed in a raspberry vinaigrette that tasted unpleasently like it had originated inside a plastic bottle.
My hopes for a satisfying vegan entree positively drowned in the almost laughable excuse for a salad (and believe me, I know my salads!), and I anxiously awaited my second plate as my tablemates munched. The man seated to my right worked as the chef at Sundara Spa and we commiserated about the unfortunate, seldom tasty nature of banquet food.
After clearing the salad plates, a waitress knelt beside me and questioned “I have one vegan option?” “That’s me!” I exclaimed, thrilled not to see a gloopy mess of spaghetti on the plate she held. Instead, three lentil-carrot-based patties in a traditional tomato sauce sat beside a pile of sauteed green beans lightly seasoned with pepper. With the exception of the lukewarm, uninspired tomato sauce and the ever-so-slightly overcooked green beans, the dish pleasently surprised me and somewhat redeemed my salad monstrosity. The patties had a soft texture, offset by the toothsome lentils, and, amazingly enough, adequately quenched my hunger.
Meal Checklist: Protein—lentils. Whole Grain—probably somewhere in those little patties. Vegetables—tomato, carrots, olive (singular), carrots, green beans. Leafy Green—romaine.
The meal turned out fairly successfully, satisfying all of my meal guidelines, offering pleasant company, and providing a convivial atmosphere in which to listen to the truly inspiring stories of those that Porchlight helped out of homelessness.
Comment Provoking Questions: Have you ever volunteered for the homeless, such as in a soup kitchen? What was your worst experience with banquet food?
Until next time, Ali.