I walked into the place where all the culinary magic happens one Wednesday afternoon. The Kids Cafe is our response to the child hunger epidemic. Every day Kids Cafe sends out 1,000 meals to various locations throughout Amarillo. The program is in its 11th year and is just one of the best things around!
Recently, the Kids Cafe kitchen needed some help from staff members because the summer meal program really has a hectic schedule. They are up serving breakfast at 5:30 am and finish dinner service around 5:30 pm. Oh, and on top of that crazy schedule, they are preparing to move into their new kitchen that’s opening in September. Needless to say, this has been quite the busy summer for the staff.
I walked in and started by prepping the next day’s meals. I sliced oranges, and prepped rice and the list went on and on. There is really only one prep station so you must clean up immediately to start the next phase. Really only one person can prep at a time because the quarters are so close together. This is less efficient and is a source of stress when you’re on the deadlines the Kids Cafe must meet every day.
Then I began to wash dishes. The sink is on one side and the garbage disposal is on the other. I found myself walking back and forth a lot, and it seemed a little bit cumbersome to me. Leigh, the Kids Cafe Director, showed me how the three compartment sink worked and more importantly how it didn't work. I asked about the divided sink situation and she smiled a big smile and said, “Oh, it’s tough, but only until September.” Leigh has been at the Food Bank for 10 years and has had the fortune or misfortune of working in 6 different kitchens in her tenure. She has a book of thoughts where she’s recorded her wish list of things for the new kitchen. She knows from experience just what is needed to make the Kids Cafe successful. As we prepped more of the meals for the next day, Leigh kept pointing out how it will be different in the new kitchen. “See how we are sharing space as I prep the entree and you’re getting the rolls together, “Leigh said. “In the new kitchen we will have more than one space to do this.”
After we prepped more I began putting away dried dishes. I had to roll the cambros out of the way first. These are huge thermal storage units on carts that are used to keep the meal components hot or cold while in route to the serving location. Leigh again laughed at me as I fumbled around acting as if I knew what I was doing. “That will be different in the new kitchen too, “Leigh said. “We will have space to line these around the wall, and they would not need to be in the middle of the room.”
I realized at that moment that we needed the new kitchen, not just to increase meals but to make the important work of the program possible. Needless to say, when the new kitchen opens I will have insight into just how monumental this is to the staff.