This guest post by Kayla describes her work with a local non-profit, The Mustard Seed Cafe. We share this to spread the word about a very worthy nonprofit in El Paso, Texas and to inspire you to learn about similar organizations in your own community. I first ate at the Mustard Seed Cafe years ago when it was a “pay what you can” restaurant. I was impressed with the quality of the meal and also the idea that everyone was welcome, whether you could pay or not. During the pandemic, the organization began giving out lunches to go as a “drive-thru”. I know that several of my patients used the service and I picked up a few meals for one of my patients there too. The service was so appreciated by many, especially during the pandemic with so many out of work.
Hunger is sadly still a problem in this country and we hope this post will inspire you to see how you can be a part of the solution.
Why I chose The Mustard Seed Café
Initially I chose the Mustard Seed Café because of a requirement for one of my undergrad classes, Foodservice Management & Production. My professor hoped that each of the students would be able to find a foodservice facility that would help us better understand the day-to-day operations within a food establishment by gaining hands on experience. Each week our instructor of the class generated assignments to be completed within the facility we chose that corresponded with the lesson for each week.
I felt challenged by the task of finding an operation that would allow me to volunteer my time, but also help me learn the functions of a foodservice operation in the midst of Covid-19. Due to the nature of online classes, the responsibility of finding a facility fell on the student and many of my peers struggled to find facilities in the area they live in. Students in my class that were able to find food operations had all sorts of various experiences in a number of different settings. From virtual meetings once a month with a sponsor working in food management, school districts and school lunch programs, Meals-on-Wheels, soup kitchens, donut shops, and catering companies, collectively we had to get very creative in order to fulfil the task of finding a facility to help increase our knowledge of foodservice operations.
As it may be true for some things in life, it is all about who you know. When I started volunteering for a local registered dietitian, Bridget Swinney, I told her about the challenge of finding an operation that would not only help educationally, but also allow me to volunteer. She mentioned The Mustard Seed Café and boy, am I forever thankful that she did!
What I Learned
My time at The Mustard Seed Café thus far, has truly been a blessing. This facility is open Wednesday – Friday from 11AM – 2PM offering free “to-go” lunches for the community. Each week, about 600 meals are made, distributed, and served to El Pasoan’s in need. If you ever want to walk into a place and instantly feel welcomed and warm, volunteering and/or accepting a meal from them will do just that.
Back in August when I started dedicating 3 hours per week to volunteer and learn, I remember feeling overwhelmed, yet in a good way. The evidence of God’s work is very apparent and He is doing great things through The Mustard Seed Café. The volunteers that I worked along side have a joyful disposition and it makes a big difference that each person there wants to be there. This reason alone makes The Mustard Seed so special.
My biggest take-a-way is not necessarily related to my educational pathway or associated with nutrition, but more about being a solution to the problem. There are people all over the world who are hungry and not getting adequate sources of food. The Mustard Seed gives our community in El Paso the opportunity to eat a free, warm meal, keeping nutrition in mind. I also learned the value of gardening on a large scale, cooking seasonal vegetables, and using what is available. In the end, the meals made would not be possible without the generosity of those giving their time and resources.
How I Will Use This Experience in the Future
My future goal is to be a registered dietitian and use my gifts and talents to help others make the necessary behavioral changes through successful eating habits. I will use my experience from The Mustard Seed Café to build a strong foundation for my career in dietetics. Remembering to put others first and maintaining a servant’s heart will help me be the best dietitian I can be.
As far as the hands-on experience I have gained, working alongside the staff and volunteers has been very rewarding. I have had the opportunity to cook meals to the appropriate temperature, assist with menu development/ideas, help establish portion control, shadow the master gardener, bake healthy and nutritious deserts, and more. No matter what your skill level is or is not, there is a place for you at The Mustard Seed.
Most of the concepts that I learned in my Food Production class related to standardization, consistency, assembly line, procurement, distribution, production, etc. The Mustard Seed Café does not fit into the “typical foodservice operation mold, because each day is different, there is a lot of faith and trust involved, as well as dedicated hearts that want to serve others. That is the main reason I love this facility, the staff, and volunteers.
Words of Encouragement and Closing Thoughts
I believe that each one of us are called to serve one another. Examples could involve your time (volunteering), resources (money, donations, etc.), or simply through words of encouragement. The Mustard Seed Café has been a wonderful place to serve and I look forward to continuing my time there in 2022.
I started my pursuit of The Mustard Seed with school objectives in mind but left with so much more. The staff and volunteers have reminded me how important it is to come together with a heart to serve because while you are busy blessing other people, you yourself will also be blessed.