If Michael Williams felt the urge to whistle while he worked at Our Place last Tuesday, a song popularized by Jimmy Durante — Make Someone Happy — would have perfectly described his mission.
“I love creating recipes and coming up with new ideas and making people happy with food,” said the upbeat Country Grocer chef as he filled one bowl after another with his Indian lentil-and-ground-beef curry. It was served with naan bread and coleslaw to an appreciative lunchtime crowd of 400 at the Pandora Avenue home for the non-profit society that supports Victoria’s homeless and hungry.
Williams was clearly happy to be holding culinary court in the well-equipped kitchen near the packed dining room and nutrition bar at Our Place, where 1,200 nutritious meals are provided free of charge five days a week to Victoria’s most vulnerable citizens.
“Country Grocer sponsors me and provides the groceries for lunch, and it gives me an opportunity to do something different,” said Williams, who drops by every six weeks or so to feed hungry guests.
“Normally, our family members get soup and a sandwich for lunch, and the people we’re serving have challenges and issues they’re dealing with, so it’s nice for them to come and get something special,” executive director Don Evans said amid the noontime bustle of activity.
Greg Tupman, 65, was one of several volunteers there to assist. His role was as a cook’s helper, happy to be able to put the Level 1 FoodSafe certificate he had earned to good use.
“It’s about giving back to the community,” said Tupman, who also volunteers for charities such as the Terry Fox Run, as kitchen helpers scurried by, one pulling a gigantic bag of onions.
“Another lady and myself have been chopping potatoes for special breakfasts, and when we finish that they go in the cooler to get cooked up the following morning.”
Gratitude was abundantly evident on the faces of lunchtime diners such as Tony, a friendly 58-year-old fellow on a very limited income who uses what the community-service provider has to offer when necessary in a warm and welcoming environment.
“The cooks and everybody in the kitchen really care, because they know we’re poor and it’s harder for us to get nutrition,” said Tony, who has little money for food after paying rent and the bills.
“I can’t eat like this at home. It’s nutritionally good, because they know it’s harder for us to afford good nutrition.”