In Defense of Street Feeding

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The Corridor of Hope in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In a blighted part of the city, that most people avoid, is the Corridor of Hope. Although the name wasn’t meant to be satirical, when you see the worn tents and cardboard lean-tos littering the sidewalks and empty lots, it is impossible not to see irony in the name.

There, in the Corridor of Hope, are the titans of philanthropy. Sprawling campuses, where all hands are on deck to help the homeless, the poor, immigrants, and addicts as well as helping with adoptions, providing cooling stations when the weather hits triple digits, offering healthcare and operating soup kitchens.

Just a few blocks from downtown, this particular piece of Las Vegas Boulevard is an area that no tourist would dare to tread.  With the exception of government-owned properties, there are few functioning businesses. It’s quite literally a shanty-town.

There are hundreds of people sleeping outside the gates of the charitable compounds. There are not enough beds, there isn’t enough food, there is not enough manpower and there isn’t nearly enough funding to care for all of these people. They stay in the area hoping to get in for a meal but the ugly truth is that there will always be thousands of people beyond the reach of these magnanimous mammoths.

There are groups like Safe Nest that care for victims of domestic violence, there is a drug rehabilitation program at the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities has a homeless to home transitional program but despite all their efforts, there is still no room at the inn for many. This is especially true for males, who make up about 75% of the chronically homeless, nationwide.

Sadly, no amount of shelters will get everyone off the street. It is easy for people to say that the homeless chose to live on the street and to dismiss them completely.  We must remember that they are human beings and that they have reasons for fearing the help that they are offered.  There is a vulnerability in homelessness that I pray neither you nor I will ever completely understand. When someone needs to be on guard twenty-four hours a day, paranoia creeps in. If you don’t have a safe place to rest, you become sleep deprived. The meager belongings that you have become all that you have to lose. When you include insult, abuse and intimidation, from other homeless, the cops and passers-by, it isn’t hard to see why so many vagrants are distrusting of everyone around them. It’s a survival mechanism.

There are teenagers, too afraid of being returned to abusive households to fill out any of the necessary paperwork. There are undocumented immigrants afraid of being reported to ICE. There are women too afraid of being discovered by their abuser to go to a shelter. There are mothers too afraid of having their children taken away. There are people with warrants for trespassing or urban camping that would rather be exposed to the elements and hungry than in jail. None of these people will go to organizations and deal with the bureaucracy on campuses that are teeming with patrol cars.

Safety can be a serious concern in facilities for the homeless, as well. There is no amount of security that can keep an eye on hundreds of people in one room, every second. I cannot count on my fingers and toes how many people have told me that they will never return to a shelter because they were robbed or assaulted by other people staying there. Shelters nationwide have had issues with bed bugs, scabies and fleas which can make the struggle of homelessness even worse.  You cannot bring your pet and you likely cannot bring your stuff inside with you.

There are people within these organizations that think that “street feeding” (their words, not ours) which is volunteering directly with the homeless in your community, is part of the problem and that “street feeders” (their term, not ours) are the enemy. They believe that all acts of charity should be performed through designated 5013Cs and that a cash donation would go farther than a meal and a conversation. Believing that street feeders are the enemy to soup kitchens is like thinking that paramedics are the enemy of hospitals.

The unfortunate truth is that street feeders can’t take a homeless person from poverty. In most cases, we can’t provide jobs or shelter and we certainly can’t provide healthcare, drug rehabilitation or psychological treatment. Our main goal is to help each person that we encounter to make it to tomorrow. Today they may be too hungry, too hopeless or too high to believe that a better life is possible but a decent meal, a bottle of water, cup of coffee, a warm coat or a fresh pair of socks and the attention of someone who isn’t avoiding eye contact with them, can make a big difference. We can help provide them with the endurance to make it to tomorrow. Tomorrow might be the day that they get a job, get into a shelter or a program. Tomorrow could be anything but only if they survive today.

Major organizations can’t leave their campuses and seek out the homeless. They can’t refer to the thousands of people they feed in a day by name and they certainly aren’t allowed to hug them.

Volunteering at these organizations is a wonderful thing. You can host food drives, you can stuff backpacks, you can do a lot. What you can’t do, in most cases, is interact directly with the people you want to help.

I want to see the people that I serve. I want to ask them what they need so that I can answer honestly when people ask me what food or goods they should consider donating. I want to look them in the eyes, so at least one person has acknowledged them that day. I want them to know that there are hundreds of people willing to give their time and talent to help each one of them. That is the difference between hosting a canned food drive for people that you will never see and putting food onto the plate of someone across a folding table.

I am eternally grateful for the amount of good work that organizations like Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army and the Rescue Mission do all over the world. They save lives, they help people survive homelessness and they provide transitional housing, empowering people to live normal, healthy lives.

Someday, I hope that everyone that I see in my line has the courage to go to these organizations and make meaningful changes in their lives. In the meantime, I will do my best to make sure that they don’t starve, that they stay warm, that they stay hydrated and that I ask them how they are.

Everyone should be helping those among us that need help. Both organizations and individuals serve our purposes and we both serve our communities. We should be able to do these things together.

“We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.”

Dorothy Day

Cowboy Casserole

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117 OZ Can Baked Beans
24 OZ smoked sausage (2 ropes)
1 large onion
1/2 C brown sugar
2 green bell peppers
2 red bell peppers
2 T Butter
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

The base for this recipe is a wholesale-sized can of baked beans. It costs about $5.00 and goes a long way.

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Melt butter in large frying pan over medium-low heat. Dice onions and peppers and heat in pan until soft. Slice smoked sausage into bite-sized pieces. Add to pan until heated through.

In a large pot, heat baked beans to a simmer. Add brown sugar, and stir until dissolved. Add sausage, onion and peppers. Stir thoroughly and allow to simmer for ten minutes or until heated through. Salt and pepper to taste.

I serve this with a slice of warm cornbread.

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Pouring Cowboy Casserole into cups or bowls and topping with a slice of cornbread at home, will save you a lot of time and hassle once you reach the hungry crowd.

It Can’t All Be Hookers and Sunshine.

We all love a good Vegas-adventure tale; strippers with a heart of gold, underdogs betting it all on red, buddies having a wild time and learning a valuable lesson.  It is the stuff that fantasies, hit movies and bachelor parties are made of.

I would love to tell you that Las Vegas is all inspiring stories, triumphs of the human spirit and sexy showgirls but I didn’t create this blog to hide the ugly truth from you.  That’s the mayor’s job, not mine.

Just blocks away from the glitter and glamor of the famous Las Vegas Strip, are eight zip codes that are categorized as “food deserts.”  A food desert is an area in which it is difficult to buy affordable, fresh food.

There are three components to food deserts.  The most obvious factor is low-income.  The others are ease of access; places to buy decent food within proximity to your home, and vehicle access; the ability to find transportation to get to the store and bring your food home.  A combination of these issues, low income, low store access and low access to transportation make grocery shopping, as most Americans know it, impossible.

Without large chain grocery stores in impoverished neighborhoods, people are forced to buy from gas stations, pharmacies and bodegas.  These convenience stores offer limited food selections, usually frozen or non-perishable, at higher prices.  People can’t afford to buy as much, so they purchase foods that are filling but are low in nutrients, sodium-rich and calorie-dense.  The high prices cause people to run out of money or SNAP benefits long before the month is over.

This provides people who cook for the food-insecure with both an opportunity and a challenge.  Vegetables are not the most popular of dishes in any neighborhood. Most people reading this, myself included are not getting the recommended daily servings.  Vegetables aren’t as filling as pastas or meat and there is limited space on each food tray.  Unfortunately, the nutrients that most of the food-insecure are lacking, come from the vegetables that they can’t make room for.

The challenge is to make vegetable dishes more appealing.  The solution is Caponata, a delicious and hearty Italian dish bursting with seasonal veggies.

My garden is overflowing with Ichiban eggplant and Sweet 100 tomatoes, so that’s a good place for me to start.  You can’t get more locally grown than my own backyard.

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Aren’t they beautiful?

I have been picking 6-8 eggplants and about a pound of tomatoes every week for most of the summer.  I have tested a lot of eggplant recipes in recent weeks, including a few varieties of caponata.

Caponata is to Sicily and Italy what chili is to the Midwest.  Everyone has a recipe but no two recipes are the same.  There are a few generally accepted ingredients but otherwise anything goes.  Much like chili, it is served as a main dish or on top of another foods.  The way it’s prepared; roasted, baked, fried or sautéed seems to vary, too.  Also like chili, people are vehement about their way being the only correct way to prepare it.

Most folks seem to agree that caponata should consist of eggplant and other summer vegetables and be served as a stew or relish.  Most recipes include a tomato base.

I have made it with stewed tomatoes and sliced Italian sausage links and served it with bread for dipping.  I have used broth to water it down to make a stew.  I have also used tomato sauce and put it over pasta.  If you are not a food purist, there is no wrong way to eat this stuff.

Remember to chop the veggies into sizes appropriate for the way you want to serve it.  If it’s a relish, dice it more finely.  If it’s a stew or casserole, larger chunks are fine.

 

Caponata

4 C Diced Eggplant, skins on
2 C Cherry-Sized Tomatoes, halved
10 OZ Olives, whole or halved, drained
28 OZ can of tomato sauce
1 C Oil
1 T Parsley Flakes

Heat your cup of oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Add eggplant and allow to cook five minutes, stirring often.

Caponata

Add tomatoes halves and stir in, making sure that tomatoes are coated in oil.  Cook three more minutes.  Add olives and parsley, and mix thoroughly.

I prefer to eat caponata as a stew, so I add a lot of tomato sauce but if you prefer it as a relish, dryer is better.  Add tomato sauce according to your tastes.

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Pour tomato sauce over mixture and mix it all together.  Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for five minutes or until you reach your desired texture.

You can serve your caponata immediately but it is also good the next day, after you have allowed it to marinate in the fridge.  It can be served hot or at room temperature.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

B-A-N-A-N-A-S

Note from the author-

I want to apologize for going so long without a post. It’s been a crazy summer. We drove cross-country. We’re selling our house. I’m growing out my pixie cut. It’s been madness. None of this has stopped me from helping the homeless community but it has kept me from sitting down to write about it.

In addition to my personal struggles, Las Vegas has been suffering from near record breaking heat.

In a three day time span, seven people died from heat exposure. The limited amount of time that I usually dedicate to this blog has been spent seeking contributions of water, ice and sports drinks for our homeless community and distributing them during and separate from our weekly G Street distribution. It’s bad out there, folks. Do what you can to help.

On to the main event…

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I grew up one of eight kids.  Being the youngest, I was the last to go to school and when I started, I had half-day kindergarten in the afternoons.  Every morning, after my siblings dispersed, the house got quiet and I had my Mom to myself for a few brief hours.  Some of my fondest, early memories are of those mornings.

My parents were born during the Great Depression in Iowa, where recovery was slow.  They were raised to believe that waste was unacceptable and having eight kids to raise in a single-income home only solidified that belief.

My Mom often salvaged bruised produce from our local supermarket to make jam.  She was always mending things instead of throwing them out and we wore hand-me downs so frequently that my sisters and I still argue over who each item  “belonged” to.  I was raised with the “mend it or make do” philosophy and to this day, I try to follow it.

With that many kids in the house, food didn’t last long enough to go bad. On those rare occasions that bananas over-ripened my Mom and I would make banana bread before she walked me to school.  At such a young age, seeing my Mom make a delicacy out of slimy, bruised bananas was magical.

The best part was that I got the first piece.  I had five, ravenous brothers and they swarmed food like angry bees.  I never got the first piece of anything.  The sheer power was intoxicating.

Between the nostalgia and the early lessons in food conservation, banana bread has always held a special place in my heart.  Fast-forward thirty years and I’m the mother, making banana bread with my small children.  If I’m lucky they will harbor the same happy memories that I do.

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Making memories with my oldest, when he wasn’t as old.

My mom didn’t have a sacred, heirloom recipe.  She used the recipe on the back of the flour bag, so that’s where I started, too.

Luckily for all of us, my kids are very inconsistent with their banana eating habits so I’ve had a lot of ingredients to practice with.

Over the years, I have perfected my recipe, cutting back on some ingredients and cutting out others entirely.  Replacing white flour with whole wheat flour is easy in because it doesn’t change the color.  I whip my bananas into an even consistency because I’m not a fan of hunks of mushy banana.  The change from bread into muffins was tricky but portioning and slicing bread on a folding table in the dark did not seem practical.

Pro-tip, don’t bring a knife with you for slicing or anything else, ever.

My new, improved and fully spectacular Emergency Banana Muffin recipe is something that I’m very proud of.  Enjoy.

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Banana muffin goodness.

Emergency Banana Bread Muffins

2 ¼ C over-ripened bananas
2 C Whole Wheat Flour
1 C brown sugar
½ C softened butter
2 beaten eggs
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray muffin tins with non-stick spray, inside cups and on top of pan.

Mash bananas and whip thoroughly with a whisk until the texture is uniform and there are no lumps. Set aside.

Using a mixer, cream together butter and brown sugar. Add beaten eggs and mashed bananas and mix thoroughly.

Add flour, baking soda and salt and mix, just to moisten batter.

Pour into muffin tin, until cups are nearly full. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Makes 12-15 muffins.

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Notice the portions devoured by my offspring.

 

It’s A Dry Heat.

If you ever want to test the patience of someone from the southwest United States, there is an easy, universally despised way. Just slip the phrase, “it’s a dry heat,” into conversation. Ovens are a dry heat and saunas are a humid heat. Which would you prefer to spend time in?

According to the 2017 Homeless Death Report, compiled by the Clark County coroner, one-hundred and eighty-nine people that were identified as homeless, died in 2017. Out of that total, sixty-two of those people died due to heat-exposure.

Reread that. Let it sink in. Sixty-two homeless people died because of heat-exposure, last year. Approximately one-third of the amount of homeless deaths that were experienced in Las Vegas last year, were the result of the weather. In a city that doesn’t experience much in the way of natural disasters, it doesn’t seem like the weather should be able to kill us but here we are, held hostage by the sun.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as of 2016, Nevada has the highest death toll of any U.S. state for heat-related deaths for four years running and we’ve seen a spike in deaths since then.

In an effort to more deeply understand the plight of my friends living on the street, I participated in a unity fast last week. For one day, I fasted per the Ramadan rules. Those rules are much stricter than the Catholic fasting and abstinence rules that I’m used to. I can easily afford to skip a few meals but spending a summer day in Las Vegas without water was no picnic. I had to lie down during my kids’ nap and by the time the sun went down at 8:00pm, I felt lethargic and dizzy. The next day I had a dehydration headache no matter how much water I consumed and believe me, I drank a lot of water the next several days.

Still, it was a blessing.

I got to take a tiny peek at the symptoms that people who suffer from dehydration experience. I spent my whole day in the air conditioning. I didn’t have severe sunburns, which are common among the homeless during the summer. I didn’t have heat exhaustion from relentless exposure to triple digit temperatures and I only went about a day without food and thirteen hours without fluids.

The city has cooling stations that are opened during the summer months and additional locations that open during extreme heat advisories.  I print the information off the city website and pass it out to everyone I see that is without shelter from the heat.  Sadly, there aren’t enough cooling stations to hold all the homeless in Las Vegas and those that are living on the street aren’t always capable of traveling to them.

Many of our volunteers aren’t able to come to G Street to serve in extreme heat and others travel for vacation so every able bodied volunteer is more important during the summer months. It’s by far the most difficult time of the year to meet the needs of those that rely on us.  Luckily, those that aren’t able to serve can contribute in other ways. Last year, a friend of mine donated a big, pull-along cooler that I dubbed “the Hydration Station.” Isn’t it beautiful?

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It holds forty-eight bottles of water and sixty bottles of gatorade, with room for ice.

 

If a few hours without water made me “hangry,” imagine how pleased someone who spends 24/7 in the heat is when they get a cold bottle of gatorade and a smile.

In addition to keeping people hydrated, during these brutal months, I try to provide alternatives to hot food. I will be sharing cold food recipes with your over the summer months.

This week, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are on the menu and that gives me a chance to share with you my Nectarine Jam recipe.

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This recipe is best when nectarines are in season.  I pick mine from a neighbor’s tree.

Nectarine Jam

4 lbs of ripe whole nectarines
5 C sugar
1 large lemon

Put a small, dry plate in the freezer.

Chop the nectarines, removing the pits but leaving the skins on. The skins are full of pectin and add a pleasant color and texture to the jam.

Measure five cups of sugar into a bowl. Set aside.

Put the nectarines in a stock pot. You should use a pot that is 10 quarts or larger because this jam will bubble up while cooking. Zest the lemon with a small grater, directly into the pot before cutting the lemon in two and squeezing in the juice.

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Put your pot on the stove over medium heat. Slowly pour in sugar, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Boil for ten minutes, stirring to prevent the jam from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

As the jam boils, it will produce foam.  Most of it will go away, as it boils. Whatever is left, you can scrape off with a metal spoon and throw away. The foam doesn’t taste good and it spoils the flavor of the jam, if it’s left there.

Using a potato masher, break up the remaining chunks of nectarine. Stir and return to a boil for one minute.

To test consistency, put a small dollop on the cold plate that you placed in the freezer earlier. If it’s too runny, let it cook a little longer and try again. If you like the consistency, it’s done.

Pour the jam into a container of your choice, then use a butter knife to scrape the inside of the container, to release the air bubbles. If you want to freeze your jam for use later, make sure it’s in a freezable container. Otherwise, put the jam in the refrigerator to cool before using it.

It’s great in PB & J sandwiches but also great with ice cream, on biscuits or sweet breads.

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Freezer friendly jars exist now.  What a time to be alive.

A Child Just Like Mine

While I was setting up my table Monday night, a boy, smiling so hard that I could count how many baby teeth he was missing, approached me.  He could hardly contain himself.  “Are you Corey’s Mom?”

“I am,” I told him.  “Do you go to his school?”

He nodded gleefully.  “I’m in his class!”  He told me his name and it immediately rang a bell.  According to the growth chart on the wall in their classroom, he is the only kid shorter than mine, by about a 1/3 of an inch.  It’s something that a life long shorty commits to memory.

I smiled and chatted with the little guy until the line started moving and he ran back to his Mom.  I held my breath for a moment, wondering what side of the table his Mom was on.  To my dismay, they were in line to eat not to serve.

I know better than to be surprised by this.

“Food insecure” is the term used to describe the 297,000 people in the Greater Las Vegas Area that don’t get enough food to eat.  Forty percent of those people are children, just like my son’s friend.  The rest may be elderly people on a fixed income, they may be disabled and a large portion are the working-poor.    

Many of the food insecure lead outwardly normal lives. According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is no zip code in the valley that is free from hunger.  In the most affluent neighborhoods in the greater Las Vegas area there are still people going without food.   My neighborhood is pretty squarely middle class, so of course there are people in need, close to home.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Las Vegas has the biggest shortage of affordable, available homes for rent, out of any metropolitan area in the United States.  For every one hundred households that are deemed “extremely low-income” there are only twelve affordable, rental units available. The national average is thirty-five units available per one hundred households.  To be considered extremely low income, a household’s annual income must fall below thirty-percent of the area median income. In Clark County that means a family of four earning less than $24,300. A person earning the minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, working full-time, would only earn $17,160.00.  In order to pay for a modest, one bedroom apartment in Las Vegas, a minimum wage worker would have to put in seventy hours a week.

For the hundreds of people we feed every Monday night, and the thousands served by people like us, getting themselves and  their loved ones a hot meal from a friendly face is a big relief.  Having someone recognize you and smile, is an uncommon comfort and it is the very least that we can do.

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Corey and I serving on Christmas.

My son being on one side of the table and his friend being on the other is just an example of privilege.  They go to the same school, which means that they live in the same neighborhood.  They’re the same age, the same grade and my son isn’t somehow outperforming his classmate.  He didn’t do anything to earn his dinner at home that night.  Truth be told, I wish that Corey was with me when his classmate arrived because he may have learned something about his privilege.  He needs to know about it. He needs to know that when you are born with undeserved advantages, you have an obligation to those born without those privileges.

I was able to provide this kid with a little familiarity and sneak him a few extra granola bars.

He provided me with a reminder that food insecurity is never more than a few feet away.  Hunger affects kids just like mine and families much like mine.

Veggie Scrap Broth

This recipe is a staple in my kitchen.  I use it in nearly all of my vegetarian recipes to add flavor and calories but it can be used as a substitute for broth in any recipe.

I prefer making broth in a slow cooker because it doesn’t require much attention.  I use a 4 quart slow cooker which makes about 2 quarts of broth.  This homemade broth only lasts about three days in the fridge so I cook it in small batches to avoid waste.

Start saving veggie scraps now. Avoid adding eggplant skins, tomatoes, avocados, potatoes and potato skins and corn husks to your medley.  Pepper seeds will make the broth a little spicy but that isn’t a bad thing in my opinion.

Good scraps to use are celery ends, broccoli stems, carrots tops and peels, green onions, garlic skins, mushroom stems, dried-out herbs, leafy green stalks, bell peppers or most vegetables that you have on hand. Include at least three kinds of vegetables in each batch of broth so you don’t end up with broth that only tastes like celery.  You can use whole vegetables as well but cut them up or puncture them so they don’t float.

A lot of the color in these broths comes from onion skins and leafy greens, so don’t be skimpy with those.

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Vegetable Scrap Broth

1 G freezer bag of Fresh or frozen vegetable scraps
3 whole bay leaves
1.5 t minced garlic
2 medium brown or yellow onion
1 C mushrooms
2 T apple cider vinegar

 

Leaving skins on, coarsely chop onions and add to slow-cooker.  Add garlic, bay leaves and apple cider vinegar. Cover with water, leaving about an inch of space at the top. Let this cook for 12 hours on low heat, stirring regularly.

Pour contents of the slow cooker the through a fine, mesh sieve over a large bowl. Make sure that nothing solid made it through and pour into the container of your choice.

Add to any dish that you would normally use broth in and enjoy.

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The O.G. (Original Giver)

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Father John McShane early in my blog.  He is the Original Giver of G Street and an  inspiration to everyone there.

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Father McShane is a long-time friend of my family.  I met him in 2002 when I first moved to Las Vegas but I hadn’t seen him in years.  I was a teenager then, so I didn’t really have a chance to build a friendship with him until I started volunteering with the homeless.

Father McShane is seventy-five years old and never wears a coat. He must be heated by the light of Christ because no matter how cold, windy or rainy it is, the man is always wearing short sleeves. The rumor is that Father McShane gives his coats away. I believe it.

He has spent most of his career in Nevada, from Reno to Las Vegas and many rural communities in between. He spent five years as the Chaplain at Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and while there, he founded the Southern Nevada Chapter of the St. Benedict Labre Homeless Ministry.  It started with PB & J sandwiches from the trunk of his car but now, almost two decades later, there are dozens of free-lance volunteers feeding, clothing and caring for hundreds of people.

In 2004, Father McShane was sent back to rural Nevada, and eventually found a home in Ely, (that’s pronounced E-Lee not E-Lye) at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Ely is four hours north of Las Vegas, so everyone was surprised when Father maintained his outreach ministry in Las Vegas. To this day, Father McShane drives eight hours to the Westside of Las Vegas to attend the weekly event and back, every week. His parish in Ely is incredibly supportive and send socks, underwear, gift cards, bus passes and other helpful items to the indigent.

Nearly every Monday for the past eighteen years, he has come to G Street in an effort to lessen the burden of homelessness and to make their lives more bearable.

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Once a month he gives Mass at the original McWilliams townsite, at the intersections of McWilliams Ave and G Street.

My first night on G Street while a fellow volunteer was telling me how they came to serve, I spotted an old priest out of the corner of my eye. “Is that… is that Father McShane?” They knew him as Father John, so I excused myself and approached him for a closer look.  I was still several feet away when I caught his eye and he paused. “Hey! You’re a Murphy!”  He asked me how my sisters and parents were. We chatted as he passed out socks to the dozens of people that had surrounded him. I felt an instant connection to G Street through Father McShane, as so many before and since have.

Father McShane has an entourage. Since his parish, as well as other groups collect for the St. Benedict Labre Ministry, he often has high use items that aren’t commonly handed out. He is swarmed from the moment that he steps out of his car. He gives everyone what he has and makes a list of what everyone is asking for.  People ask him to bless them, they ask for his prayers and they eagerly update him on their situations.

Week after week, those in need flock to him. They surround him with their hands out but he never loses patience or hope. He never judges people or tries to determine who is most worthy of what he has. He gives, blesses, prays and listens.

Every Monday for nearly twenty years.

His patience and generosity are contagious. I leave conversations with him feeling lighter.  My voice and my heart are softer after speaking with him.

He isn’t the only one on G Street that has found peace by serving others. Many people have followed in the father’s footsteps and Las Vegas is a better place because of it.  I truly believe that he’ll be canonized one day.

It is in honor of Father John McShane that I came up with this recipe.  It can be served as a side dish or as main dish, in a cup or bowl.

 

Holy Mole

Slow Cooker Black Beans

3 C dried black beans

4 C broth

Coat the inside of your crockpot with pan spray.  Pour in beans and broth.  Cover beans with water.  Cook on high for six hours, adding water, as necessary to keep beans covered with liquid.  I use chicken-bone broth for flavor but if you want to make this a vegetarian recipe you can substitute vegetable or mushroom broth.

Drain beans.

Brown Rice

3 C brown rice

6 C water

Pour water into a medium sized pot and bring to a boil.  Add rice and return to boil.  Cover and keep on a low simmer for twenty minutes, stirring frequently.

Sauce

1 T cooking oil

1 C onion, minced

1 28 oz can tomatoes, puréed

3 T unsweetened, powdered cocoa

1 t chipotle chile powder

2 t salt

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium flame.  Add onion and cook until translucent, about five minutes.  Pour puréed tomatoes into pan.  Add cocoa, chili powder and salt, mix well.  Bring sauce to a boil and let simmer for three minutes, stirring constantly.

Combine rice, beans and sauce.  Mix thoroughly.  Serve warm.

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Holy Mole- mole sauce over brown rice and black beans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Life Gives You Crackers…

Many people and a handful of organizations have provided me with food to serve to the hungry on G Street, over the years.  Most recently, the Las Vegas chapter of Food Not Bombs gave me a car load of crackers, cereal and cookies to hand out.

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A carload of crackers.

Most of these foods were a few days past their best-by date, so they wouldn’t be sold in stores. Although they pose no health risk to the consumer and hadn’t even had a chance to get stale yet, stores dispose of this food instead of selling it to the public.  

Other reasons that stores might not sell food are damaged packaging, discontinuation of a product, overstock of an item, or cosmetic imperfections.  Imperfect produce can be anything from a bruised apple to a banana that is deemed too yellow. I made an entire batch of banana bread muffins with “too yellow” bananas and I have to say, they were amazing.  

Many stores and restaurants chose to donate nonsalable food and write the donation off on their taxes.  That store would contact a 501-3C, a registered charitable organization, of their choosing. This process is called Food Rescue.

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Food rescue selfie with Food Not Bombs.

Someone like the dedicated folks at Food Not Bombs pull up to a loading dock, fill their vehicle with random food items and haul them off.  When there is an abundance of food and not enough hands, if the amount of food exceeds the need that the groups meets or the storage space that they have available is limited, they reach out to people like me to help with distribution.  

Food Rescue is a winning situation for everyone involved.  Businesses have a chance to write off the donation, recovering some of their expenses.  Groups and people that help to distribute food to the hungry, have to buy less out of pocket.  The needs of more people in the community are met.

Beyond that, food rescue helps to eliminate unnecessary waste.  Americans throw away about six-billion pounds of food every month.  No one should go hungry in a country that can afford to throw away that much food.  

Food waste is also a big cause of greenhouse gas production.  When all that food waste goes into a landfill, where it is covered with more waste and deprived of oxygen, it produces methane.  Landfills are the third largest source of methane gases, according to the EPA. By working together, as a community, we can eliminate food from going into a landfill and keep our air and planet healthier.

Everyone benefits from food rescue.  

For my part in this process, I drove down to the Huntridge neighborhood and helped to load my car with hundreds of boxes of snacks.  I had to store them at my house for a few days. While I unloaded the food from my car, I took inventory.

I knew that the cookies and cereal boxes would go faster than we could stock them on our table.  Most of the crackers, flavored Wheat Thins and Triscuits would go too but there were also a few dozen boxes of plain, salted crackers.  Like most people, I love Saltines in my soup or chili and they are my go-to, when my stomach is unsettled. Also, like most people, i can’t imagine sitting down and snacking on a box of them.  

There is one other factor that I always consider when I’m making food.  Will they be able to taste the love?  Call me crazy but a box of dry, salted crackers is not what I think of when I think  of lovin’ from the oven.

I looked through my cookbooks, recipe collections and eventually the internet void to find something that incorporated Saltines and showed whoever ate it that I cared to put forth the effort.  I found a few recipes that were close but nothing quite right. Luckily, I have a lot of volunteer taste testers and after a few tries I came up with something that I’m proud of.

Introducing-
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Chocolate Toffee Bars

50 Saltine Crackers

1 C Butter

1 ½ C brown sugar, packed

3 C chocolate chips

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cover a large cookie sheet with tin foil and spray thoroughly with pan spray.  Set down a single layer of crackers.

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Ya’ basic, crackers. Ya’ basic.

 In a small saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar.  Bring to a full boil and allow to boil hard for three minutes, while stirring constantly.  Pour mixture over crackers. Using a wooden spoon, spread mixture evenly over crackers.

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So gooey and sweet.

 

Bake for five minutes.  Top with chocolate chips.  Bake for three minutes. Spread melted chocolate over crackers, evenly.  Place flat in the freezer for at least thirty minutes.

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Right before they go into the freezer.

You can use a very sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut these into orderly pieces or you can use your hands to break them into jagged pieces.  

Keep these cold until they are ready to serve or anticipate chocolate covered fingers.

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He went through the entire line two extra times just for more toffee. The strongest endorsement possible.