In case you’re worn out by trying to feed your household one decent meal a day, consider what these two women have bitten off!
First, a little background. Mennonite Disaster Service shows up to clean up after tornados, floods, hurricanes, and other unhandy acts of nature. And they keep on cleaning up long after the TV cameras have moved on.
These people don’t get paid. They just bring their skills and their good hearts to help where trouble has struck.
Along the way, the MDS organizers learned that these workers are a whole lot happier at the end of a long day of mucking out basements and clearing debris and putting on roofs if they’ve got the promise of a great supper.
That’s where 71-year-old Anne and 68-year-old Tina enter the story. Thanks to Emily Will who’s written this story, and to MDS who sent it to me:
MINOT, N.D.—Creative Cooks Needed to Produce Three Substantial, From-Scratch Meals per Day for Groups of Five to 35.
Successful candidates must be able to:
• Travel and remain away from home for up to two months
• Work, standing, 12 -13 hours per day, seven days a week
• Plan menus and prepare meals to meet nutritional needs of hard-working laborers
• Shop for ingredients, as needed (often daily)
• Wash dishes, pots, pans; maintain sanitary kitchen
• Exhibit excellent time-management skills
• Adapt to a variety of cooking/baking equipment
• Work flexibly to serve variable numbers of people each day
• Get along with many personality types
• Work within an adequate but not extravagant food budget
• Exhibit flexibility in housing arrangements
This non-salaried, voluntary position is especially suited to widows, 65+ years of age.
Anne Friesen, 71, and Tina Heppner, 68, both of Manitoba, Canada, spent October cooking for MDS workers in Minot, N.D. (Actually, “chefs” might be a more appropriate term: “pork medallions with peach sauce,” for one, borders on the gourmet.)
The duo is now in their fifth shared MDS assignment, each three weeks to two months long, since 2008. They’ve cooked for hungry MDS crews in Mobile, Ala.; Dulzura, Calif. (twice); New Orleans and now in Minot. They collaborate so well that they only accept assignments together.
“We never need to discuss what we have to do; we just go and do it,” Heppner said. “Baking comes natural to Anne.”
“Tina is at the meat end,” Friesen adds.
This labor division gets them through the supermarket efficiently. On days when they’re buying some $600 to $1000 worth of groceries, they often miss an afternoon break.
The women rise at 5 a.m. to prepare breakfast and lunch. (They provide lunch fixings for volunteers to prepare their own sack lunches). By 1 p.m., they’re usually able to take a break—naps, showers, walks—until they cook dinner and clean up after it, from 3 or 4 to about 8 p.m.
All meals are “from scratch,” for economy and taste. With her past experience as a school baker, Friesen conjures up oatmeal-raisin cookies and pumpkin-cranberry muffins as effortlessly as a magician pulling scarves from a hat.
Friesen, who had never been far from home, was at first hesitant to leave her Manitoba-based children and grandchildren for extended periods. But both she and Heppner have embraced the Internet and Skype as means to stay in touch. “The time away flies,” Friesen said. “After our two months in New Orleans was up, I wasn’t ready to leave.”
Because cookbooks are heavy to lug around in suitcases, the women employ their laptops to stock a portable base of favorite recipes, many of which come from congregational cookbooks. “The recipes are tried and true and don’t use outlandish ingredients,” Friesen explained. They take advantage of the Web as well.
They approach menu planning by creating a “rough sketch of the week,” Heppner said. “We can’t follow it exactly because things change quickly.” (Leftovers to use, for example.) “We’re nearly always searching for recipes.”
One recent evening, the women heard the story of a mature music-loving couple who had managed to remove their baby-grand piano from their home—with ingenuity and help from random “angel” passersby—just before the Minot flood evacuation siren blared. Hearing clients’ stories keeps the cooks grounded. “My heart gets into it so much more because I know why I’m here,” Friesen said.
The two friends are certainly not in Minot to enjoy luxury accommodations. They’re “camping out” in a little room of Congregational United Church of Christ, which has offered its facilities to MDS. The women experiment nightly with different ways of stacking their inflatable mattresses and foam pads, trying to find the most comfortable combination. In Dulzura, they slept in an old RV. “It was fine as long as it didn’t rain,” Heppner said. “The roof was leaky.”
“I like to say we go on all-inclusive vacations, room and board provided,” Heppner said with a mischievous sparkle in her eyes.
Surely they receive some stipends? Tips? “Occasionally, but we return them to MDS, along with our expenses reimbursements,” Heppner said.
Any complaints? “I think too much appreciation is given for our meals,” Friesen said.
Yeah, like who wouldn’t show enthusiasm for homemade, from-scratch meatloaf, scalloped potatoes, cooked carrots, Caesar salad, and lemon/coconut bars after a day of hard physical labor? The nerve!
Bless you, Anne, Tina, and Emily (who also took this photo of Anne [left] and Tina [right] on a recipe hunt.
And if all of this made you hungry, here’s a quick and easy recipe for Lemon Squares, from Fix-It and Enjoy-It 5-Ingredient Recipes.
Fix-It and Enjoy-It! 5-Ingredient Recipes, pg. 216
Makes 15 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking/Baking Time: 30 minutes
Cooling Time: 1-2 hours
1 box angel food cake mix
21-oz. can lemon pie filling
1/8 cup confectioners sugar
1. Mix cake mix and pie filling together with an electric mixer.
2. Pour into a lightly greased 9” x 13” baking pan.
3. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Let cool.
4. Sprinkle confectioners sugar over top.
5. Cut into bars.