We have a beet bounty at YouthCare, thanks to our good friends at Farms for Life and the wonderful produce they deliver each week – everything from swiss chard and bok choy to purple carrots, and of course, beets.
How do our youth react to these strange new vegetables? Surprisingly well. On the streets, they don't have access to fresh veggies and healthy options, and often have to “take what they can get” for sustenance. But homeless youth crave healthy food – though pizza is always a popular choice with teens, most will take seconds of salad and veggies when they come in for meals at the James W. Ray Orion Center. In our housing programs, many residents learn to cook for the first time; as they trade off making house dinners (with staff support), they also learn about portion sizes and creating a balanced meal. The staff, meanwhile, try to make cooking fun for the residents.
Heather, House Coordinator at Passages, shares some tips from the staff team at this transitional living program for 18-21 year olds: “What we have found is if we take the lead in creating dishes, our kiddos will try it. We made beet cupcakes with beet mascarpone frosting and beet lemonade as well as preparing fresh beet juice mixed with our apples and berries from our back yard. We roasted beets in fresh lemon/orange juice with zest and fresh thyme and topped it with feta cheese. We had one kiddo yell “I just love beets” while eating beet leftovers for breakfast.”
At YouthCare, we aren't just feeding young people for a night. A healthy meal gives a young person energy to work through a tough GED problem set, or to pound the pavement submitting job applications. A shared meal is an opportunity for our staff to connect with the young people who walk through the doors at Orion to ask, “what's next?” Preparing and eating dinner together in our residential housing programs gives youth a sense of community, and even family, that has been missing for so long in their lives. And thanks to Farms for Life, and the many individuals and groups who prepare and serve meals at Orion and at our housing programs, we are able to use a meal as a stepping stone to a deeper connection. And it is that connection that helps us get homeless youth off the streets and preparing for life.