Billy O. - the guy in charge of food at BRM
This article is part of a larger series of articles about the Boston Rescue Mission, and organization for which I am raising money this winter. Other posts in this series discuss 1) why I decided to start this fundraiser in the first place 2) Why the Boston Rescue Mission 3) The meals we cook and serve while volunteering and 4) The recipe for the delicious bacon wrapped pork loin that we cook and serve to the homeless.
I got the best news this past week.
It was a perfect early Christmas present from an unexpected source.
Out of the blue, while I was in California for the holidays with Bryan's parents, I got an email from Eric, an organizer at the Boston Rescue Mission (BRM), telling me the Tiny Urban Kitchen fund had raised $3094.19 so far this year!!!
My jaw almost dropped.
I had initially been really, really discouraged. Two and a half weeks after my initial post about the fundraiser, Eric told me that the fund had only raised about $200, (a chunk of which came from Bryan's parents - thanks Mom & Dad!).
I remembered my quote "I will be over the moon if we reach our $10,000 goal" and wondered whether I had been dreaming a bit too big. $200 felt so so far away from that goal.
Last week's email totally gave me renewed hope.
Thank you so much, all of you generous donors, for contributing to the fund. It takes a lot to give up a bit of your own comfort and luxury in order to help some pretty needy people. Thank you so much.
I am thrilled to be 30% of the way to my goal.
As a way to end 2011, I will spend the next two days sharing about some really special people from BRM and their stories.
These are people whose lives came upon hard times. Through the perseverance of the individual, the hard work of the BRM staff, the support of volunteers and donors, and lots of grace from God; these people have been able to turn their lives around in incredible ways.
Today, we'll meet Billy O, who is the official "acting food service manager" at the Boston Rescue Mission, but who I like to call "Executive Chef of the BRM Kitchen."
Cooking for Hundreds of Homeless a Day
I had the privilege of interviewing Billy O right inside the "tiny urban kitchen" in the basement of the Boston Rescue Mission. Billy works at BRM as the acting food service manager. It is in this crazy, tight kitchen that Billy and his team churn out hundreds of meals every single day.
Working at BRM is challenging and full of surprises. First of all, they serve six meals a day - 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, and 2 dinners. According to Billy, during the winter months (when more people come), you could be feeding up to 600 people a day.
Though the stress sounds daunting to me, Billy finds it challenging and fun.
"[not knowing what you're going to get] makes it exciting. Because of our long history here, we get donations from many of the upscale restaurants in area."
"Duck breast for example, or jumbo shrimp. Or squid meat balls from the North End."
"I just love, like, when we get donations and we get all these different foods. I just love watching it unfold until the moment when it's time to serve the entire dinner. I've been doing it for so many years it's like second nature to me."
What have you learned from your experience cooking here?
"Keep it simple, keep it basic - that way you're going to reach more people." Don't add too many weird spices. Instead, put the spices out and let people season their own food. A lot of people don't like onions; a lot of people don't like garlic; you'd be surprised."
Sometimes if they run out of food, they end up scrambling like crazy. It's at these stressful moments when he really needs to think on his feet, creating meals on the fly from available ingredients in the pantry, refrigerators, and freezers.
"We make sure every single person gets fed. No one will be turned away. That's what we've been doing for 111 years."
Volunteers Cooking at the Boston Rescue Mission
Boston Rescue Mission works with several church groups who cook and serve food during their Sunday Community Dinners. I asked Billy O a little bit about his experience with these volunteers.
"Here's the beauty of what I love about the church groups on Sunday nights. They come from all denominations. Pauline from Boston Chinese Evangelical Church comes with her group and they make Chinese food. The Koreans come from the Korean churches and they bring Korean food. And then you have the Baptists and they'll have soul food. Depending on the group that's coming, you basically know what they're going to be cooking."
"We really appreciate the volunteers. We depend on that. What you consider small, to us it's huge."
Turning a New Leaf
Billy O is a recovering alcoholic and went through the recovery program at the Boston Rescue Mission about seven years ago. With help of a great team of professionals, case managers, and others at BRM coupled with Billy O's strong desire to change, he slowly got his life back on track.
Billy attributes the community aspect of BRM as the main driver for his success in the program.
"I could just go and talk to anybody and talk about what was going on. All the doors were open. They makes you feel like you are really a part of the community. It's been years now, and I thank God for this community."
How did you do it?
"I approached it with a serious mind and a deep commitment. I did it a day at a time. I realized I didn't have to stay clean & sober for the rest of my life. I just had to do it today. That was a huge relief. I can do today. It's all based on being consistent with the program."
How do you deal with holidays? parties? Times when you're feeling down?
"I go to work! I stay connected here. On a holiday if I'm getting that feeling, I'll just come here and volunteer or do some paperwork. Or I make good friends and things like that."
Final Thoughts from Billy
"Our mission from day one has been to help feed and shelter those who have fallen on hard times and who are less fortunate. It's awesome to know that if you know someone who's fallen on hard times, they have a place to go where they can be treated with respect."
"I'm really motivated to give back to a community that gave so much to me, literally gave me a whole new life. It fulfills me to do this, and I genuinely get appreciation and gratitude for doing this."
Thanks Billy O so much for the time you spent sitting down with me and sharing with all of us a little bit about your life, you passions, and the workings of the BRM kitchen!
I am so inspired by people like Billy O who, as a result of being blessed, give so much back to the organizations that helped them. Seeing and meeting dedicated people like Billy just makes me all the more excited and committed to supporting the Boston Rescue Mission.
Thanks so much everyone! Looking forward to an awesome new year!
To donate, click on the image below and check the box for "Tiny Urban Kitchen Fundraiser."
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