For one meal at Matt Talbot: donations, volunteers and one long grocery list

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    Tacos are prepared and set in pans to serve to guests at Matt Talbot.
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    Eighth graders Jaden Ferguson and Kiley Kahler prepare to serve a meal at Matt Talbot Kitchen and Outreach.
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    The Schoo Middle School volunteer team prepares tacos for a dinner at Matt Talbot on Dec. 2.
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    Eighth grader Chloe Andreini leads the assembly line of middle schoolers who served Matt Talbot guests a taco meal.
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    Volunteers with Schoo Middle School wash trays after guests are finished eating on Dec. 2.
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    Ron White (left) jokes with another chili cooker while waiting to serve people his special concoction.
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    An attendee scoops up some chili made by UNL East Campus dining hall staff.
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    One participant's pours his leftover white chicken chili into a plastic bag after the cook-off.
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    The chili cook-off brought an abundance of food, including several kinds of chili served with cinnamon rolls.
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    Chili cook-off participants and cookers pose for a comedic photo after the event on Nov. 21.
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Jerry’s eyes were polished with happiness. He was full and satisfied from a warm meal at Matt Talbot Kitchen and Outreach, something he doesn’t get when he’s at home.

Jerry, who didn’t want to give his last name, lives in his truck.

Matt Talbot Kitchen and Outreach in Lincoln provides many programs to help people in need, including free shower and laundry services, health screenings and life skills training. The center’s main focus, though, is hunger relief and providing meals.

Breakfast isn’t served, but coffee and donated food items are readily available each morning. The kitchen provides hot lunch and dinner every day of the year.
However, providing meals isn’t easy.

Behind each meal are countless people and copious amounts of time, money and talent that make feeding the hungry possible.

Fundraisers and Donations

His creation bubbles and spits in the kettle. Ron White ladles the chili into dixie cups, smiling at the people eager to taste his Louisiana concoction.

White, the dining service team leader at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s East Campus, competed in Student Involvement’s 11th Annual Chili Cook-Off on Nov. 21 in the Nebraska East Union.

A panel of judges determined the best chili and gave out awards at the event. Attendees paid $5 or gave five cans of food for individuals, $10 or 10 cans for families, to come and eat chili prepared by dining services and competitors. At least 30 people were involved, from volunteers to chili makers.

Extra donations were also welcome, as the proceeds from the event went to Matt Talbot.

White said Matt Talbot is a great cause and he’s happy to give support through his cooking, especially because hunger holds a special place in his life.

“Growing up, I was in a situation where, my mom and eight kids, we were literally on the streets,” White said.. “As far as what it’s like to be hungry, I know it.”

Ly Nguyen and Bi Ying Chun, both junior hospitality, restaurant and tourism management majors, organized this year’s Chili Cook-Off and learned more about need in the Lincoln community.

Nguyen said many people think of Matt Talbot as a homeless shelter, but there’s more to it than that, which she learned by doing the event.

“For me, it’s about giving back to the community because I know there are a lot of homeless people out there,” Nguyen said.

Volunteers

While carrying on a conversation, continuous ringing, buzzing and bleeping of phones and email notifications interrupt her. Joy Blithe flips her large calendar to the month of December, then pencils in names. She doesn’t mind the interruptions, though. Every penciled name means people will be fed.

Blithe is a volunteer coordinator at Matt Talbot, who’s in charge of making volunteer teams and schedules. Having a combined coordinating experience of 18 years at her church and People’s City Mission, she saw Matt Talbot as a good fit for her and got the job in March 2014. She focuses on making sure there are people to provide and serve meals.

“There’s an army of volunteers that do the meals,” Blithe said.

She coordinated 60 teams and puts together schedules. For example, one team may have a regular schedule of providing and serving dinner one Tuesday of the month. With up to 10 people per team, there’s about 600 volunteers a month working with hunger relief, with some people being counted more than once because of frequent volunteering.

The teams are responsible for planning their meal menu, buying the groceries, cooking the food at Matt Talbot, and serving it to guests. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and dinner is from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30.

“With the team that I’m a part of, we start about 3:30 in the afternoon cooking and somebody goes shopping and buys all the stuff,” Blithe said.
Of the money raised for Matt Talbot, little goes to the hunger relief program because the kitchen is more or less self-sustaining. However, equipment and essential costs are covered by raised funds.

Blithe said she gets lots of volunteer requests and doesn’t always know where to fill them in because teams are already coordinated.

“This is definitely a volunteer organization driven place,” she said. “We’re working on that and trying to create more opportunities and new ways to involve people.”

Buying and Preparing

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Kiley Kahler and Jaden Ferguson slide their knives back and forth, eagerly slicing nine cucumbers to prepare for salad to feed 150 people.

Kahler and Ferguson, both eighth graders at Schoo Middle School, were part of 11 students and six adults that provided dinner at Matt Talbot on Dec. 2.

The two girls were excited to volunteer and see new faces.

“It’s really nice to meet the people and get to know the kids and hear their story,” Kahler said.

“Everyone has a story and it deserves to be heard at one point in their life,” Ferguson said.

Allysa Diehl and Jeremy Sevick, both teachers at the school, headed up the volunteer opportunity for their student council. For their team of 17 to plan feed at least 150 people would mean each person would be responsible for about nine mouths to feed.

Blithe said volunteer teams are told to prepare for at least 150, if not more. Matt Talbot workers help volunteer teams ballpark the amount of food they’ll need based on portion size. For example, Blithe said she estimates one-quarter pound of hamburger per person, which would total 30 to 40 pounds for the whole meal.

The middle school team spent $340 on 60 bulk items for their taco meal and desserts, which included 35 pounds of refried beans and 10 pounds of shredded cheese.

The team was spread out, each working on a different element of the meal to prepare in one hour. Two students cooked meat, some prepared salad and some arranged taco shells in pans by forming an assembly line.

Diehl said the volunteer opportunity at Matt Talbot was part of the student council’s movement of “me to we,” and helping hunger related causes.

“When the need has a face, it makes it more powerful,” Diehl said of serving those in need at the kitchen.

Serving and Consuming

The line wrapped around the perimeter of the room like the trimming on the walls. Dinner was ready to be served. The Schoo Middle School students formed an assembly line, each person serving a different food item.

Koen Dietrich, a sixth grader, paraded around the room with a coffee pot.

“Coffee, anyone?” he said with a chipper in his voice and a smile on his face.

Eighth grader Chloe Andreini led the assembly line and handed out the tortillas. Andreini and her classmates made small talk with those going through the line, and the people reciprocated gratitude and conversed back.

Everyone went through the line, which was a little more than 150 people, including elderly, teenagers, children and ages between. Diehl said all the food was gone at the end.

Blithe said occasionally, teams sometimes run out of food before everyone has gone through the line. In those cases, she said volunteers scrounge the kitchen for any food to give the guests. She said there are usually bread and other items for sandwiches, at least.

After guests left, the volunteer team stayed to clean up the kitchen and dining area. With the team working together, clean up took about 30 minutes.

“For me, I will never be the same after this experience,” Kahler said as she took a break from sweeping the wooden floors. “I met this guy (in line) and he said all these nice things about me, and he didn’t even know anything about me.”
Dietrich said he has no doubt he will be back to volunteer.

“It was really fun to be able to cook for the ones who are in need,” he said. “They sometimes just need a friend.”

Jerry had just finished his third meal at Matt Talbot on Dec. 2. He said he was diagnosed with diabetes and lost his apartment within the last few years. He traveled the country to stay with family and for a hobby.

“I traveled so much, I got broke,” he said.

An ex-truck driver who used to live in Lincoln in 1999, he remembered about Matt Talbot’s services when he returned to the city a few weeks ago.

“I needed the help bad,” Jerry said.

He’d been living in his truck for a week now, parking at truck stops and using their facilities. He knew the truck driving industry, so he fit right in without suspicion.

But because of Matt Talbot Kitchen and Outreach, Jerry has a new life to look forward to, which started the day after his third meal.
Matt Talbot’s program helped him find a more comfortable home.

“Now I’ve got an apartment,” he said.

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