Sunday, November 27, 2011

Foodbuzz 24x24: A New Tradition

Thanksgiving is the best holiday.
A celebration of the autumn bounty and togetherness... It's all so cozy and insular however that it can be easy to forget about those without a home, food, kith and kin.
Looking back on the past year, I am very thankful for the luxuries I've been afforded amongst friends, cooking meals, hosting events, and bringing people together. But there is a point when I have to question what else I could potentially be doing, bigger picture, to share with the community at large, outside of my social group.

Over the summer my friend Katie organized a volunteer "cooking club" one night to prepare a meal for the residents of the Downtown Women's Center in downtown Los Angeles. The DWC is an organization aiding the many needs of homeless women, serving as both a day center offering hot meals, showers, computers, phones, and case management, as well as 71 units of permanent supportive housing. The center has been a fixture in downtown since 1978 when founding director Jill Halverson offered a much needed respite to the man's world of Skid Row - its shelters, pantries and social services accessible only to men. Today, the DWC is nationally recognized as a prototype for programs striving to meet the unique needs of homeless women.

Preparing a meal that would feed 130 homeless and low income women that night was an amazing experience, and ever since I've been wanting to gather a group of my own to come to the center and cook a meal. And what better time than Thanksgiving to give back? Of all the food bloggers and culinarily-astute friends I have I didn't expect recruiting to be an issue.
Because budgets are tight and ingredients to cook for so many women can be costly, I submitted to Foodbuzz 24 x 24 and was so pleased that we were selected for their sponsorship. Now to organize a menu, and shop!

Collard greens. By the case. I suppose there's a first time for everything!

15 pounds of black-eyed peas: check.


Heaviest cart I've ever pushed! I panicked a little how I'd store the perishables until the next day in my little fridge... Move over beer, I've got 30 pounds of chicken to get in there! (Ah, it's amazing the things you can accomplish with determination and a little elbow grease).

Day of! Katie, the DWC's volunteer coordinator welcomes us to the kitchen, and gives the group a little background about the center.

Hairnets on! Aprons tied! Hands washed!

Kristin The Cuisinerd harnesses her inner cafeteria lady and perfects her hairnet.

Our Menu

Oven-fried Chicken
Sweet Potato Fries
Collard Greens
Black-eyed Peas

We only had two hours in the DWC kitchen to complete our prep work. Clock ticking, I delegated tasks and everyone manned their work stations with good-natured dedication.

Popular lifestyle blogger H.C. of L.A. and O.C. Foodventures shows off his Nutty Professor apron, and mad chicken tender-making knife skills.

Teal tackling the collards, while Christine volunteered for the arduous task of sorting the peas...

Robin, our resident chicken man. Michael opted for sweet potato duty.

Project Collard: Complete.

Cat's laugh could be heard throughout the kitchen, and Alexis came all the way from Iowa to peel yams!

Kristin couldn't believe that 30 bunches of collards and 15 cartons of vegetable stock would fit in her cauldron.

Just like at Spago...

I couldn't have asked for a more enthusiastic, fun, and spirited group. We prepped a meal for 130 women in 2 hours flat, had everything labeled and in the walk-in for the following day's lunch service.
Before we parted, Katie lead us to the front of the building where Made, a new cafe/gift boutique run by the DWC was having a holiday reception. The beautiful space was created to "break the cycle of poverty and chronic unemployment by helping low-income and homeless women discover their talents and develop their skills through job readiness training and product development opportunities." The shop sells gift-ready homemade goods by DWC residents, such as vintage teacup candles, beaded ornaments, repurposed journals, and succulent arrangements. The cafe proudly serves Groundwork Coffee and prepared foods by Tiara Cafe (both also native to downtown). All proceeds go directly back into the DWC for job training and skills-building workshops. It felt SO good to get some early holiday shopping done there versus the Black Friday circuit. Highly recommended!

According to Katie the meal was a hit with the women, receiving rave reviews. While I think our group was confident about creating a good menu, what made me the most proud was how many people (almost everyone, really) thanked and told me how much they couldn't wait to come back and do this again, and soon!

If you want to find out more about organizing your own group or how to get involved as an individual, visit the DWC's volunteer page at And of course, the center has many holiday needs right now as they're giving each woman a personalized gift this season. To learn more about that, visit
I urge those outside of Los Angeles to find an organization in your community that would benefit from a home-cooked meal. Food is love, fit to be shared.

Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. Fantastic. You are a man with a heart of gold. GREG

  2. I couldn't be more thankful to be part of such an enthusiastic group, making a meal for some very very special ladies. This is definitely going to be a new holiday tradtion for me.

    Thank you Nathan! xo

  3. Two of my favorite people doing something that makes me love you even more? This is the best post ever. What a beautiful and generous thing you've done. Happy holidays, love. Hope to see you soon.

  4. You inspire me, Son! This is a wonderful thing.


  5. Loved this! I volunteered at a teen shelter a while back and it was a great experience. This inspired me to do it again.

  6. i have lived next door at little tokyo lofts for over 5 years and have seen the building metamorphosis from it's empty and decrepit stages into a beautiful lively home for these women. this post has warmed my heart and inspired me to get off my fortunate arse and sign up to volunteer. cooking is something that brings great pleasure to me especially when i do it for others, and often for my friends and neighbors in my building, so why not expand that to my neighbors next door. thank you!

  7. Congratulations on making such a fantastic meal. It seems you guys rocked. What a wonderful group of people and such a great project you have worked on. Happy Thanksgiving.

  8. Nathan, what a Wonderful act of caring for you and your friends. Your Great Aunt Carol

  9. Nathan, what a beautiful meal you organized for these women. You & your friends should be so proud of yourselves!

  10. The spirit of the holiday is manifested here and with you.

  11. Wow. You are amazing. Congrats on pulling off such a heroic cooking and humanitarian feat. Way to use your 24x24 for good.

  12. This is such an amazing 24x24 idea! You did a wonderful job!