There’s nothing like a special meal to elevate an ordinary day. It can brighten a mood, bring people together and create lasting memories of important events.
That’s why Eva’s Phoenix Foodservice Coordinator Leanne Rabinowitz makes sure there is often cause for celebration in her kitchen.
“Life can be hard and stressful for all of us. Celebration is important,” she said.
Whether it’s someone’s birthday, St. Patrick’s Day, Ramadan or International Pancake Day, Leanne often plans her menu around simple celebrations on the calendar. Sometimes she goes all out with a special event to mark an important occasion.
In February, she honoured Black History Month with a unique dinner complete with tablecloths, glassware and china. Youth and staff sat down together to savour the meal and their time together.
“In a shelter environment, this is a very special event. I made sure that the meal reflected the occasion by polling youth and staff about their preferences so I could make some favourites that would connect them to their heritage,” said Leanne.
The menu featured Caribbean and African dishes with ingredients like black-eyed peas, okra and plantains, which required planning ahead and coordination with the Second Harvest and the Daily Bread Food Bank.
Leanne says there’s a different feeling around the table on nights like these. Some of the youth dress up and they are always more talkative than usual.
“They’re more likely to come out of their shell, especially if the food is culturally relevant for them. There’s a certain confidence in knowing the food and sharing your experience with it,” said Leanne.
The greatest compliment to the chef was when a youth got on the mic and said, “Shout out to Leanne. These salted cod fritters put my grandmother’s to shame!”
Celebrating Black History Month this way brought back memories and provided comfort for some youth, while introducing others to new cuisines.
“Special meals help create community. We often talk about the food days and weeks later after a special dinner. It helps build relationships when we see each other in a different light,” said Leanne.