Lunch without orders: Day One steps up to serve at the Homeless Alliance
When the team from Day One Concepts restaurant group took over the kitchen at the Homeless Alliance's WestTown day shelter, the sun was out and temperatures were mild. That meant most of the local homeless population were outdoors.
By the time the gate went up at the head of the service line, a queue that wouldn't quit for an hour was underway.
Chef Colin Stringer of Nonesuch was on hand to fry the catfish to order but only after crew members Jeremy Wolfe, Paul Wang, Sherlee Marrs and Alexander Davis helped hand-batter each filet.
But Nonesuch is only a quarter of what Day One has to offer and three-fourths of it was on-hand last month to feed between 300 and 500 clients of the Homeless Alliance's day shelter, where those in need can find a hot meal, a cup of coffee, a shower, locker, computer and other services to help find a way back to productivity.
Besides the avant-garde dining experience of Nonesuch, which features seasonal locally sourced ingredients and a prixe fixe tasting menu, Day One Chief Operating Officer Derek Forari also brought staff from Waffle Champion, and Buttermilk on Paseo. The only Day One restaurant not represented at WestTown was Maples Barbecue, because it is currently transitioning from a seasonal trailer-based operation to a year-round one with a new home on the western edge of the 16th Street Plaza District.
Plus, many of the crew on hand that day had worked at Maples in some capacity in the past.
For their lunch at WestTown, Stringer and friends also made their own variation on tartar sauce, fried potatoes, salad and dessert.
Help on the way
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While the crew arrived on a lovely spring day, as we all know in Oklahoma mild weather this time of year can quickly turn deadly.
The majority of folks who rely on WestTown live completely unsheltered at night and are at the mercy of the elements and our kindness.
"When you sleep outside and walk everywhere, rain can be really challenging," reminded Kinsey Crocker, who serves a communications director for the Homeless Alliance. "The day shelter is in need of ponchos to provide during the wet season."
More help is on the way to the Homeless Alliance with the recent addition of my colleague and friend Nathan Poppe. He recently accepted a job as managing editor for The Curbside Chronicle, a program of the Homeless Alliance.
The Chronicle not only provides a voice for the homeless community, it also provides employment opportunities through the sale of the magazine. In the last few years, the program has added wrapping papers designed by local artists. What started out as a seasonal operation for Christmas has since expanded into flower bouquets for Valentine's Day and Mother's Day.
With design guidance from The Plant Shoppe and the eighth grade students at Westminster, homeless and at-risk vendors were able to sell flower bouquets. With the addition of Nathan and the expansion of the Curbside Chronicle and Curbside Flowers, the community is making a difference in the kind of neighborhood we share and make together.
"The Curbside Chronicle works with its vendors to break down barriers to traditional employment and develop time management, money management and social skills," Crocker said.
The next time you have an occasion for flowers, check first online at www.CurbsideFlowers.org.
Tackling the predicament
Last year, the Homeless Alliance housed more than 700 people through its programs and collaborative initiatives. The majority were housed in regular apartments and rental homes throughout the city.
For people who aren't quite ready for a traditional rental property environment, the Homeless Alliance has a small apartment complex on its campus. The WestTown Apartments include 20-dorm style units for veterans and chronically homeless people.
"They (the apartments) are staffed 24 hours a day to provide easy access for case managers at the Resource Center," Crocker said. "It also gives them easier access to the services at the day shelter."
Twenty rooms won't solve the local homeless crisis, but it's a start and can inform future generations on how to tackle the predicament. Programs like this one need plenty of volunteer and financial support. But a place like the day shelter kitchen has specific needs that change from week to week.
Kitchen manager Delbert Briggs let me know there's an immediate need for shredded cheese, vegetable and olive oil by the gallon, and No. 10-size cans of fruit, vegetables and cream soups. He also said he sorely needs 6-inch deep hotel pans on the daily serving line.
Thanks to the efforts of folks like the kitchen crews from Day One Hospitality, the burden is shared regularly but the solution for chronic homelessness is far from solved.
"We are nearing the end of our fiscal year," Crocker said. "We are celebrating the success of housing a record number of people, unfortunately that means the number of people served in our day shelter hit a record high of 6,063 unduplicated guests in 2017."
She said that 6,000 number is key because fewer than 8,000 people experienced homelessness in our community last year and it means the shelter saw more than 75 percent of all of Oklahoma City's homeless population.
"With increases in the number of people seeking help come increases in the cost to help them," she said. "A donation as small as $4 can feed a person lunch for an entire week."
She went on to say $2,500 could cover an entire day of feeding 300 people breakfast and lunch, providing showers, computers, phones and access to services and programs.
Every little bit helps.
Recently, Designer Rugs on Western donated a large quantity of rugs and carpet samples for clients.
"The folks staying in the WestTown Apartments were excited to get them to warm-up their living space and the concrete floors of their apartments," Crocker said.
She said tenants would love a vacuum cleaner to share and a communal upright freezer to store food since rooms are outfitted with mini-fridges that lack freezer capacity. To donate your time, money, goods, and/or services go online to homelessalliance.org to find a home for your charitable spirit.