Laurel Herman
Chef Instructor, Culinary Storyteller, and Culinary Medicine

Providing Sanctuary and Nourishment in Times of Crisis

Food Pantry

Several weeks ago, I received a call from a friend fearing for the safety of  her family. Immediately, my thoughts went to the children. I am a senior, I live in a one-bedroom apartment, would they fit? How do I feed them? I virtually had no money. That was not even a question I would entertain. First the older of the siblings came, until a few days later the phone rang again. “Can we come?” Yes, I replied.  Their stay was short but profound.  I learned these very basic but crucial things.

The safety of the children is first and foremost.

Support can be as simple as providing food, warm blankets, pillows, towels, the necessities of life.

A true sanctuary is more than four walls shielding its inhabitants from abuse. It is using soft voices, filling bellies with warm food, and a no questions asked policy, so kids can be kids. There is already enough trauma. And then there are the hugs, and really getting to know who they are. They are fragile, and resilient, yet there is a breaking point. It won’t happen under my watch.

In writing this, as a chef and culinary instructor, my original intention was to focus on services, the importance of food banks, farms, and how the community can help. I began to see that this situation is just a microcosm of the bigger crisis looming. How do I support my friend, who had to go to work, while trying to remain calm during her storm?  I have resources. The food community tend to be nurturers. I reach out to a friend who runs a food pantry. For $10, I have a large box full of vegetables, bagels, meat and the dreaded unhealthy snacks. They are happy, I am relieved. You pick your food battles. Grateful and pleasantly surprised, the children help me unpack the food. I begin to cook. A family dinner is the only thing I can think of to provide a sense of sanity in an insane situation. It’s what we do, right?

I wonder how single moms do it? I can’t. Imagine you are at the mercy of the kindness of strangers, providing humanitarian  medical treatment for your sick child. You are informed that you have 30 days to leave, placing them in grave and inherent danger, by returning to a country that provides no such treatment. As one mother tearfully cried, “It is like signing the death warrant for my child.”  Or you are separated from your child, and they are in a cage, with no resources, or rights?  Who among us would simply say, “Come”?  Even at potential perilous risk to ourselves? I am not religious, but doing the right thing is in our DNA. It just is.

I grew up in a home where everyone was at our holiday table. We extended the table to fit every nationality, color, religion imaginable. My mother was a terrible cook, but my home was always open. Thank God we had my grandmother, a four-foot-tall powerhouse who fed us all. All nations are my relations. That is a Native American phrase. They understand.

Nourishment is more than a warm meal. It is one human being caring for another, period. The human spirit requires very little to keep it going. A gesture, a smile, a place to lay your head. That would satisfy the humblest of people. Many of us are one paycheck away from our own crisis.  I know I am. Who would provide that sanctuary for me? Or you?  Do you know?  My dear friend in Germany, her grandmother provided a safe house for a Jewish family. Her grandfather paid with his life. My motto is, rules are meant to be broken. I don’t play safe. And my prayer is that you won’t either. Shabbat Shalom, Laurel

About the Author
Laurel Herman is a, writer and Chef instructor residing in Richmond, Virginia. Laurel's passion is bringing people together through food. Her workshop and retreat work uses storytelling combined with food and music to evoke a sense of remembrance. She teaches that cooking is a healing modality anyone can learn. She currently teaches at Mise en Place Cooking School,and Woodside Farms at Chickahominy Falls, Virginia. Her Book The Blissed Out Chef was published in 2015.
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