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Volunteer Stories (2009)

In the years 2004, 2005 and 2009 we interviewed our volunteers for our December issues of the Catholic Agitator. Below are the 2009 interviews.

Stephanie Chan

I am from Redlands, California in the Inland Empire. I received a bachelor’s in journalism from UC – Irvine. For the last two years I have been working for Crystal Cruises here in Los Angeles. I am one of the few people who actually likes living in L.A.
I found out about the Hippie Kitchen from an internet search. I have been coming to the kitchen for about two months.
I plan to attend the Culinary Institute of America and they require six months of kitchen experience, any kitchen experience, before being accepted into the program. So by coming to the Hippie Kitchen I am getting that experience for school. In addition I receive personal fulfillment from serving others. I had been looking to volunteer in some capacity anywhere; however, when I found out I needed kitchen experience that was even more incentive to volunteer at the kitchen.
I have only worked inside the kitchen so far; but I would work in the garden if needed. It would give me a chance to interact with our guests; which has happened to some extent working on the serving line.
I feel more productive on Saturday mornings since I started coming to the Hippie Kitchen. I like to sleep in on Saturdays; but that is not as rewarding as coming here. I really love it. I do not like my job at the cruise lines; but it pays the bills. It caters to pampering the rich and I have never been one to make it easier for the rich. I want my activities to have more purpose. Such as helping out at a non-profit to do more helpful things – again the Hippie Kitchen is a great fit.
I have chopped vegetables for salad, served on the line, helped with clean up… I was able to mop today, that was kind of a joy. My favorite activity was chopping carrots and celery for Faustino who was the cook that day. I enjoy work that deals with the preparing of the food. It was great fun. Faustino says I am fast with a knife.
The Agitator doesn’t get to Redlands does it? My father is pretty strict. I have not told him about my aspirations to go to chef school. He wants me to be a doctor or a lawyer, something along those lines. Yeah, it’s a lot of pressure. I plan on telling Dad about the Culinary Institute of America once I’m at the school in New York. Sometimes it is better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission. Mom knows of my plans and is more sympathetic. She just wants me to be happy.
I was born Catholic but do not practice it too much. That is, I don’t go to Mass a lot; however, after speaking to you people at the Catholic Worker it seems I am practicing the Gospels so I really feel better about that. Thanks for the time and I want to say how much I really like coming to the Kitchen. I believe I have learned more about life from this experience.

Nick De Rossi

I’m from the Bay Area–the one in California, not Florida. John Lee Hooker used to live in my family home before we moved in. Sometimes we still get his mail. Anyway, I received a scholarship for film school at USC so I came to Los Angeles to go to school. I have been in LA for almost 7 years. I work as a sound mixer for a small television post-production company.
I wanted to find a soup kitchen to volunteer at in the Skid Row area. I was aware of the immense problems and how desperate the situation seems to be in Skid Row. The Hippie Kitchen came up near the top of the list of my search on the internet. Yes, the one on the computer.
I thought it was neat that it was Catholic. I always liked the traditions. I consider myself genetically Catholic as my parents and grandparents are all baptized Catholic. I like working at the kitchen because you can see that it really helps people. It’s a great cause. The garden is a refuge for people on the streets. They can come into the shade and chill out from the city for a little while.
I used to work in a restaurant and there seems to be a similar camaraderie that is enjoyable. At my everyday job I am always sit, so it is good to be able to walk around and do more physical things. I can be more interactive with the other volunteers and I enjoy that, as I said, camaraderie.
Generally, I come on Saturdays. Since I work nights, sometimes I manage to show up on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I usually work inside the kitchen helping with food flow or serving on the line, though I have been outside and worked at “water flow” where I keep the water jugs cold and full. Sometimes I do what is termed ”watering the line”, where you provide cups of water to our guests waiting in line. This allows me some interaction with the people in the garden and that is good, well good and bad; but, mostly good.
In the Gospels Jesus says that, ‘Whatsoever you have done to the least of my brothers you did it to me’. I used to attend a “non-denominational” church, which in my experience usually means “Baptist.” That kind of Christianity focuses on the individual and your personal relationship with God. Which is obviously very important. However, Jesus was calling us to help those who have less. I think being Christian should be more about what you do rather than what you don’t do. That is what I like about Catholicism. It tends to support the more social causes and the kitchen is directly helping people every day.
I like to chop lettuce for the salad and I aspire to chop one day like Narong who volunteers on Thursdays. I have been “on salad,” which means to mix the chopped lettuce, tomatoes and salad dressing.
I told my mother I go to a soup kitchen a couple times a week. She was somewhat horrified, screaming, “what are you doing there?” I said to her, “well they have pretty good food; but, they do make me work for five hours first.” I had to explain to her that I chose to volunteer at the Hippie Kitchen.
The food is very good. Food is just food until you put the right seasonings. You folks take the time to flavor the food.
I believe it is really cool that there is an organization that is devoted to follow Jesus’ teachings, and I like to help out with that cause and support it.

Darlene Martha Blackwell

I volunteer on Tuesdays and Thursdays and have been coming here since March, 2009. I was unemployed for a while and I wanted to do something constructive and useful with my time. I had volunteered at other places before and wanted to do that again. I went on the internet and found the Hippie Kitchen.
I am really happy that I am doing this work. The other volunteers are really beautiful people. The people that live in the Catholic Worker community are beautiful people. It is a really nice environment to work in and be able to something good for someone. I look at it and I am very grateful to be able to do this.
My parents are from Pakistan. I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. I am grateful for my life, though I’ve had my struggles over times, I have a loving family and friends to look out for me. Many of the people we serve do not have that support in their lives. I want to help them by giving them some support by my service.
The job I like the best is handing out the sporks. For those who have not seen our set-up this is the last item we hand out in the food line. Once our guest has a spork they can go sit down and start eating. So my job is to hand them a spork and sometimes I say ‘enjoy your meal’. I really love to see the faces when they get their spork and are on their way to eat – some of them smile back at me. That is very fulfilling. I have been on the food line serving salad or bread which is good too; but I really enjoy handing out the sporks.
I also, come in early to help with preparing the bread – sorting, buttering, placing the hand-out bread in the bags.
Recently, I started making salad dressing. I’ve done that three times now. This is work that happens prior to serving our guests. I just follow the recipe out of the book and I end up with two buckets of salad dressing, made from 5 gallons of mayo, garlic, basil, pepper, vinegar, etc. Part of this job is to taste the salad dressing to make sure it’s not missing anything. I like the salad dressing so now I actually eat the salad.
I have now lived in Los Angeles for four years and I live within walking distance of the kitchen. I often see some of our guests on the way over. I know some of them by name and say hello. They recognize me and say things like, “Your the girl that works at the Hippie Kitchen”. It makes me feel good, I like it.
Some people are very grateful that the Hippie Kitchen is here for them. Other guests’ attitudes are like ‘You owe me, I deserve this’. But, this place is a blessing. I’ve volunteered at some of the missions around here it is very strict, such as you have to eat and go, but at the Hippie Kitchen, people can take their time and relax in the garden, talk to their friends, get seconds as well as some of the other different things we hand out. It’s a beautiful place and a great experience for me.

Aduoa Marie Middleton

I was born in Seattle, Washington. I am thirty-eight years old and I first came to the Los Angeles Catholic Worker when I was fifteen. It was my mother who introduced me to LACW. I remember my mother saying, “These people walk their talk.” She has so much charm and wit and when she spoke she was so infectious in her regard for LACW, that it had a profound impact on me.
I remember in the mid-eighties coming down to Skid Row with my mother and brother to pass out clean needles and condoms. I remember thinking how strange it was for a single mother, attending medical school at the time, to bring her two teenagers down here to do what was essentially social justice work.
Towards the end of high school I wasn’t interested in classes which leads to trouble – ditching classes. My mother wanted me to finish school or do something more structured. It was my grandmother who suggested I take the California High School Proficiency test allowing me to leave high school early.
My mother still wanted me to do something like attend college. That did not sound interesting at the time. Mom then said to look into the LACW internship program. So I called them up and spoke with them they said yeah come on down. So, at 17, I became a LACW intern. I remember it being a lot of work; yet I had an awareness of being connected for the first time in my life. That summer I had a sense of love, family, companionship and community. I love my mother but she was so busy with medical school I had felt isolated. That and living in Orange County at that time, where if you are not white one can feel further isolated.
That summer was great, very intense with hard physical work, as well as, high-level political discussions. It was a great space for me to be at the time.
Internship helped me to go on from there. I attended UCLA and received my degree in African American Studies. I had a modeling career, bought a home, traveled around the world.
Modeling was brutal value-wise, it was quite a culture shock from the time spent at the LACW. I believe I abused myself emotionally. I had a lot of guilt, a lot of mixed up feelings – ambivalence. Part of me was enticed by modeling and living in the shadow of Hollywood – you know “maybe I can be a star.” I believed there was a place for this. The glamor machine where I would spend two hours having my hair done then an hour in make-up all for one photo-shoot. The other part of me was aware of the need for others in the world. The lack of food, shelter, clothing, health care that a lot of us take for granted.
I had a lot of justifications or rationalizations for staying in modeling, being in America it paid the bills. That means buying a home, paying down student loans. It afforded me a lot of access to resources. At one point I was on the set of the soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful” and that enticing dream of becoming a star was once again calling.
Ultimately, I came to the realization that I was co-opting my true values. Some of those values I learned at the LACW when I was a teenager. Such as, helping me to become aware of justice, peace and personal responsibility. It helped me further define my personal needs; those of family, belonging and being connected. It helped me make sense of some of the racial experiences I have had. Racism is so prevalent in our society. My experience with the Catholic Worker helped to understand how to live life acting out of your convictions. This is why I come back here to affirm that part of me.

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Volunteer Stories (2005)

In the years 2004, 2005 and 2009 we interviewed our volunteers for our December issues of the Catholic Agitator. Below are the 2005 interviews. Ben Sullivan I don’t categorize myself as Catholic or Episcopalian or Jewish, but I do have a feeling that we are all supposed to be treating each other decently; and you …

1 comment

    • Stacey Major on November 23, 2011 at 7:58 pm
    • Reply

    I have been on both sides of the feeding and preparing at the hippt kitchen.They fed me when i was homeless,and i volunteered when I lived at the Hospitality house.I can say that I definately received much more than I gave that has always been my experience with the catholic worker.They gave me a place to live when I got out of prison in 2009.They cultivated my transition from incareration to freedom.I went to school while at the hospitality house,graduated and finally got a job.I was blessed with the task of caring for Michael Cooksey as his care giver when he was dying of head and neck cancer.The friends at the LACW helped me get thru his passing( well Im still not thru it )but You All helped me so much again thankyou on my behalf as well as Michael’s. He said you were his family and he lioved you all so much.The LACW so givenly paid for Michaels final exspences after his death 1-28-2011(which doesnt come cheap)I can’t wait to see you all.I forgot to send a shout out to Arnel I love you Brother.So just know that i will never forget you.My heart holds a special place for you always.Blessing 2 u all.And I will miss Doc Pat and Rogelio as well.xxxoooxxoo

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