Every Monday through Friday, Caritas of Austin opens their doors to deliver hot lunches to anyone in the Austin area. Starting at 9:00 each morning, a dedicated team of volunteers work under the guidance of Jennifer Mattson, Head Chef, and Brandon Harrison, Food Services Assistant, (endearingly referred to as ‘Sous Chef’ by Jennifer) to prep the Community Kitchen to serve over 250 meals daily. For the past year and a half, Mattson and Harrison have built up this well oiled machine, allowing them to serve a hot and nutritious meal to anyone who walks through their doors (Monday through Friday from 11:00am-12:30pm). That’s right — anyone.
For all you planners out there, prepare to have your minds blown — The menu for every lunch is determined by donations received at Caritas of Austin, yet, each morning Mattson and Harrison walk into the kitchen unsure of what donations had come in the night before. That means their lunches (prepared for over 300 people) are planned, created, and prepped in a matter of hours. How’s that for thinking on your toes?
Last month, seven of us at Aunt Bertha had the privilege to volunteer at the Caritas of Austin Community Kitchen for a day, and were humbled and in awe of the team’s dedication and fine-tuned process. Alongside Mattson, Harrison, and a handful of long-time volunteers, we served entrees, salad, fresh fruit, hot rolls, and washed dishes. Misty Nickle, a UX Designer at Aunt Bertha, was in charge of serving fruit and handing trays to customers. When she heard that the Kitchen feeds anyone who wants a meal, she was skeptical. “Surely they were going to have to turn people away. I was very pleasantly surprised.” Sure enough, every single person that walked through the door was served — a standard that Mattson and Harrison strive for every day.
Nickle and David Guzman, a Data Analyst at Aunt Bertha, who rarely get to witness the impact of their work, encountered a much greater experience at Caritas of Austin than just serving food.
“It was so good to be able to see the actual faces of the people we are trying to help. Everyone who works at Aunt Bertha has their own story (I guarantee it) and sometimes, it can feel like we aren't doing enough because we can't see the actual effects we have on people.” ~ Misty Nickle, Aunt Bertha
“After volunteering with Caritas I couldn't help but feel closer to Aunt Bertha's mission. I think sometimes it can be easy to forget that there is a person in need on the other side of every single program that we list. For me, this volunteer experience was a clear reminder of the importance of the work that we do, and how impactful it can be when people are able to access the resources that they need, when they need them,” said Guzman.
Caritas’ often mispronounced name (pronounced CARE – it – ahs) means love or charity in Latin, and their mission is to prevent and end homelessness for people in Greater Austin. Although they’re first priority is working with people to establish stable housing, many don’t realize they offer comprehensive wrap-around services including: food services (enter, Community Kitchen), education classes, job placement, refugee resettlement support, and veterans assistance.
According to ECHO’s (The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition in Austin, TX) annual count of people experiencing homelessness, 2,036 persons were counted as homeless on January 28, 2017 — an 11% increase from 2015 (http://www.austinecho.org/about-homelessness). That’s why these services are needed now more than ever in the Greater Austin community.
If you’re in the Austin area and are interested in volunteering with Caritas of Austin, visit their Volunteer page at www.caritasofaustin.org/get-involved/volunteer.
To find other community kitchens or meals in your area, go to www.auntbertha.com and select the “Food” category to see programs serving your zip code.