Serving more meals than ever before

No matter where you are, coming together with others over a warm, homemade meal is one of the best ways to bond and build community. So it comes as no surprise that the Day Center kitchen, so critical to DWC participants’ health and well-being, is also one of the most beloved parts of DWC for staff, residents, donors, and volunteers alike.  

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, these safe communal spaces were suddenly transformed into potentially deadly ones. Closing the DWC Day Center and kitchen to all volunteers and non-essential staff was one of the first and most distressing safety protocols we had to enact, in order to ensure the safety of the entire DWC community. At the same time, providing nutritious daily meals to the women DWC serves became more important than ever before, as their access to other services and resources in the region rapidly shrunk under strict stay-at-home orders. Every day, we saw more and more women coming to us in need of food and nourishment. 

Our pared down kitchen staff had to get to work in a big way. Where before they were joined by numerous on-site volunteers and Cooking Clubs to prepare 400 meals a day across several hours and three daily services, they were now tasked with readying all the day’s meals in just four hours, to serve to participants in one daily meal service at 9am. 400 meals also turned into 800, as the economic fall-out of the pandemic pushed more and more women to our doors. 

For Head Chef Leanne “Leelee” Martinez and her team, meeting that need meant arriving on-site at 4am every morning. It also meant that snack packs provided by off-site volunteers were more crucial than ever to offloading some of her kitchen team’s escalating workload.  

The result of their teamwork, despite physical distance and immense hardship, is historic for DWC. Together, they were able to more than double the amount of meals provided to our community, from 120,000 in 2019 to 260,000 throughout 2020!  

We couldn’t have done it alone … and we certainly couldn’t have done it without the incredible commitment of our kitchen staff, who continue to keep all DWC stomachs happy and full! Click here to watch and learn more about our meal services during the pandemic. 

I come from a dysfunctional family and was homeless myself, living in vacant houses, alleys, you name it.

Now I want to give back to the community, to help people such as myself, to make sure they don’t deviate from their path. Going from feeding 120 women a day at the Downtown Women’s Center to 400 under the pandemic wasn’t easy, but that’s what cooks live for: making sure others get fed. This October will be five years of working in the DWC kitchen for me. I’ve learned it’s about building a rapport with each person that comes through the doors — you need to be real with them. And that’s what DWC is all about! So if there’s one thing I had to leave with them, it would just be to tell them that they can be anything they want to be…they just have to trust in it and put forth their best effort.