Everybody loves the kitchen ladies because they take good care of the volunteers. They make sure there is breakfast in the morning and lunch in the afternoon. They always have a smile on their face, they never complain and they work very hard to ensure that everybody eats often and well. And really, don’t we all want grandma to serve us a well prepared meal after a hard day’s work?
For lunch today we had MA's cheese enchiladas and pinto beans, tostadas, Roger’s spaghetti, Vivian’s stuffed bell peppers, green salad, fresh vegetables from Loretta’s garden and Vivian’s dessert buffet.
I learned an important lesson about food and volunteers shortly after Polly was kidnapped in 1993. One day, about a month after Polly disappeared, a television reporter named Doug Murphy, who had been covering Polly's case, directed my attention to the food line where the original kitchen ladies were facilitating lunch.
When he said, “You know that if you stop feeding people they will stop coming,” I knew instinctively that he was right. “You have to feed volunteers,” he said. If they’re out looking for your daughter all day they need nourishment when they come in from the field.”
Now we make sure that meals are covered whenever KlaasKids conducts a search for a missing person.
KlaasKids works with an online true crime forum called Websleuths to feed volunteers in the early days of the search. Our good friends at Websleuths pool their resources if they cannot find any local restaurants to donate breakfast and lunch. We usually go with pizza, sandwiches or burritos because they’re affordable and delicious. However, once local businesses realize we are conducting a serious search effort for a missing person in their community they almost always find a way to contribute to the food effort.
It’s really about more than providing nourishment, though. There is a profound comfort quality to food that is universal. We associate it with friends, family and fellowship. We anticipate a good meal. (Sometimes I anticipate a mediocre meal, but that’s another story altogether.)
We experiment with recipes, and take solace in creating something that will stimulate the senses as it puts a smile on the faces of others. Food lets us forget trial, tribulation and stress for short periods of time and has the power to catapult our minds to foreign shores. It brings us together around dinner tables, restaurants and picnics in the park. A good meal can also be a solitary adventure, although it is always better to have somebody to share the love with.
When Violet and I first met Sierra’s family back in March we showed up at her mom’s house with a picnic meal. We knew that the family was freaked out about Sierra’s disappearance and wanted to remind them to eat and know that we really cared. Once we went inside we weren’t surprised that Marlene’s house was already full of meals donated by friends, neighbors and well-wishers. Food is comfort as food is love.
Like everybody else they showed up early in the search effort and asked what they could do to help. They quickly gravitated toward the kitchen and started putting the pieces of their department together. During the first couple of months it was about rationing food prepared and donated by others. But more recently they have been anticipating volunteer numbers and doing much of the cooking themselves. They even make sure that there are no onions in the chili so that Danny can have some.
Theirs is not a thankless job because everybody loves food and everybody loves the kitchen ladies. However, it is a difficult task. Thus far 8,400 volunteers have helped to search for Sierra and none of them have gone home hungry. In fact, each and every volunteer has been served a filling and yummy meal. It may be a small gesture, but the kitchen ladies make sure that it is one from the heart.