The Aunt Bertha Blog

A Social Worker, a UX Designer, an Office Manager, two Business Analysts, and two Data Quality Specialists Walk Into a Community Kitchen...

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.

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“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.

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Topics: Community building volunteerism providers

Visting UPLIFT: Hope In Action

There is a big difference between talking about something and actually doing it. Last Tuesday we volunteered at a church in downtown Austin that provides a food pantry, as well as case management services and other basic needs assistance to people who need it. It was fantastic!

I have always loved volunteering, but I was super nervous about this particular morning because I hadn’t ever volunteered in this way before. I was worried that I might get in the way more than I would help, and I was nervous about meeting new people. If I had listened to the fears that were rolling around inside of me that morning I would not have volunteered at all. As it turned out, I was able to meet some of the most amazing, charitable individuals; people that are willing to give some of their time and love to those in need every week.

I was especially touched by the attention that was given to every child who came to the church that morning. In the storage area where the volunteers keep shelves full of food, carts of hygiene items, and bags full of other miscellaneous supplies for those who need it, there is a special box devoted to collecting toys and stuffed animals for all the children who come in to the church. Bobbi, the woman who we coordinated with to volunteer that day, keeps a watchful eye on the entrances to the church for all the little ones that enter. The minute she spots a child she comes back to her box of goodies and picks out a toy especially for them. This alone was heart-melting for me to witness because I have four younger siblings that mean the world to me. To know that there is someone else who shares that same kind of love and care with children that aren’t even a part of her own family brought a smile to my heart. I was thrilled too when Bobbi, in her own words, asked if I would “like the pleasure” of picking out a toy and giving it to a little girl who came in with her mother that morning. I walked back to the cardboard treasure box and dug around in it until I found a little, down-soft teddy bear that was fully equipped with angel wings and a halo. The little girl was probably about 3 years old and only came up to her mother’s knee. She was very shy so when I walked over to her she was hiding behind her mom’s legs, but even so I could see the grin that spread across her face when I handed her the toy.

At Aunt Bertha, we want to empower people to help each other, and help themselves. I research programs for Aunt Bertha and try to write the benefit, eligibility, and application information in a way that will be the most helpful for our visitors. I have been writing these descriptions hoping that I was doing so in a way that would enable people to get the help they need. But, until we volunteered, I had never gone out to meet and talk with the people that we are trying to reach. It was inspiring to finally go out and volunteer because I was able to meet some of the people who are regularly out there helping, talking with, and listening to people in need. I will definitely be going back, and I whole-heartedly encourage anyone reading this to take the leap and volunteer if you have the time. Remember, even if all you do is smile next time you make eye-contact with someone or take an extra minute to really listen to them, it can help.

Lyn is the lead technical writer at Aunt Bertha. She is a student at Austin Community College trying to choose between Kinesiology, Elementary Education, or Art/Design, if she could have a hybrid of the three that would be perfect.
Topics: the life of a startup volunteerism homeless austin poverty helping food pantry food bank personal experience