April 6, 2022, 12:00 AM

Day 5 --  The Joy of Folding Ham

The World Central kitchen is about an hour and 20 minutes from our Airbnb. I barely slept last night because I was unsettled and nervous about what today would hold.

We left at 6:40 AM and arrived close to 8 AM. The Kitchen tries to be low-key for security reasons and we very nearly drove by the entrance which sits in the middle of an industrial district, looking no different than a garage or some other type of repair place. However when Cheryl and I walked through that open garage door, we immediately began to smell the most incredible food. Of course people were already cooking to prepare meals and they told us that we were in the right place.

Our volunteer coordinator, Alina, met us at the door and then introduced us to the head chef at the site, Chef Karla Hoyas. (OK, I had to Google her name too! She’s one of the premier Latin chefs of our time.) She was incredibly nice and down to earth as she gave us a tour before our work shift. We walked by enormous vats of beets boiling in pots set up over huge butane burners, and we saw someone stirring 100 gallons of homemade chicken noodle soup.


Then the work began. We had about 65 to 70 volunteers working together, including the chefs. Cheryl headed off to pipe mayonnaise on the sandwiches. I was “la fille qui plié le jambon” or the girl who folds ham. Yes, ham. The irony in that is amazing. This tells you that we were serving as we were asked to serve, and that we were not doing jobs that we felt we wanted to do.


To be honest folding ham is kind of therapeutic. The job had a beginning a middle and an end, and I knew that every single stack of ham that I was folding was going to make its way into the stomach of someone who desperately needed a meal. How could I not love it? It also gave me opportunity for conversation with lots of different people from all over the world. We were serving with people from France, Spain, Idaho, Pennsylvania, Oregon, North Carolina. Together we made over 4800 sandwiches.

At one point Cheryl had someone come up to her and pull her sleeve. She turned around to find one of the volunteers who have been sweeping the floors. He said to her “I am from Ukrainia. Thank you for helping my people. I hope you come back.”  What he meant was please come back after this is over. Please come back to see Ukraine at its prime once again. These are the words of a man who anticipates victory, a man who has hope.

And this is what Chef Carla says about Hope: “My favorite part of food is what you can do to help others – – to change the world, to relieve, to give someone help. Because when you are giving somebody a plate of food, you were giving them hope.” This is why I love serving with World Central kitchen. Their conviction is that all people deserve the best food, particularly those people who are in greatest need and who are often overlooked and unseen by the rest of us.

This is Chef Andre’s goal for every meal that is made in the Kitchen: “If it’s a sandwich, it’s going to be the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten. If it’s rice, it’s going to be the best rice I’ve ever eaten.”

I also want to tell you that they make lunch for everyone who’s volunteering at the site and it was, in fact, one of the best lunches I’ve ever eaten in my life. One of the visiting chefs had made us a full Mexican meal with burritos, seasoned rice, and a homemade salsa with fresh tomatoes and cilantro that made my heart sing.

Now I assume that some of you were wondering about how safe it was for us to be there. When we were inside that warehouse, there was security and we were told that inside the facility we were completely and absolutely safe. And it felt like that. In fact I told Cheryl that we might as well be making food in Kansas for all I knew, because there wasn’t even a hint of any kind of trouble outside that kitchen. Now there are additional opportunities to deliver the food to some of the refugees at the border and of course I am going to research how I can do this.

You should also know that the most requested food as people come over the border is baby food. And so today they also made homemade baby food: applesauce and carrots that were sealed up into small cups in order to give them to families who are crossing the border. Baby food. Doesn’t it just hurt to hear that?

Today the World Central Kitchen also celebrated making its 5 million meals for those who are in distress, who have experienced natural disaster, or who are fleeing their country to the warfare. And we were there! The chef banged on a pot to get our attention and then announced the serving of the five millionth meal. What an incredible thing to be part of. Thank you for understanding how essential this work is, and that I needed to be part of it. After all, isn’t St. John’s the Food Church? And isn’t our goal to nourish our neighbors? The reality is that we have neighbors all over the world.

Jesus said this “Whatever you did for one of the least of these my brothers or sisters, you did for me,” Matthew 25:40

Be blessed, and be a blessing to others,