First you take an 8-ounce plastic cup. Fill it with a mixture of beans, rice and cheese just below the lip. Dump the contents onto the outside edge of a tortilla and then smooth out the mound. Fold the outer sides in, grab the newly created ears nearest the filling and perform the critical roll.
This is how you make the perfect burrito, or at least the most perfect one that David Baum and members of the Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA) have yet devised.
Folks gathered on a Saturday in the kitchen of St. John United Lutheran Church in Phinney Ridge for the first “Burritos Without Borders” event. They made 234 burritos slated for delivery to encampments in north and south Seattle. It was the first of what will be an ongoing collaboration between a gentleman who took it upon himself to feed people experiencing homelessness in the field and an organization that has been doing the same at home.
The effort gets down to basics; the essential ones that mean the difference between health and disease, starvation and survival.
In a city where the official response to homelessness has been ineffectual at best, this seems simple.
“If you are a person, you deserve food,” said Joseph Wapner, a chef with more than two decades of kitchen experience who is instrumental in putting on nutritious and delicious meals three times a week.
The work went fast.
A team of 10, plus one reporter, get to work squashing, rolling and packaging burritos before placing them in an aluminum tray. Each tray fit 24 burritos, which were then meant to be heated, put in insulated containers and brought to encampments.
Small plastic cups filled with salsa and sour cream served as condiments.
Baum holds that his main contribution to the project are the relationships he has with residents at various encampments, but that understates the commitment he has made to people in need. Baum developed and then served a meal that he calls Rumble Pie, a nutritionally dense creation that he brought to encampments. He built those connections by giving people what they needed when institutions did not.
But Rumble Pie required baking and limited Baum to whatever he could create in his home kitchen. Working with the PNA opened up a new opportunity.
The organization already serves as many as 450 meals per week in the church’s kitchen. Access to the space and Wapner’s expertise at cooking for multitudes meant an expansion in the number of people with access to food.
It was a partnership that the PNA was ready for, said Laura Silverstein, a staff member with PNA.
“We feed people who are hungry,” Silverstein said.
Silverstein helped inspire the meal. She makes burritos for her son — he can eat three a day, she said — and used her experience to make the effort more efficient by encouraging the team to premix the ingredients before wrapping them in a tortilla.
It was no small contribution. The new method meant that 10 volunteers could make more than 230 burritos in an hour.
The Burritos Without Borders initiative is new to the PNA, but the goal is not. The group has been serving hundreds of people hot meals on a modest budget, Wapner said. An assist for the burritos came from the city through the sugary beverage tax, a measure that put a tax on certain drinks with added sugar.
Money is helpful, but Wapner said that he and the team also value volunteers’ time.
“We try to be careful with that precious resource,” Wapner said.
The burritos are a first step in what Baum and the PNA hope will be an ongoing partnership to bring people experiencing homelessness warm, comforting and nutritious meals, rather than forcing them to make appointments and travel for food.
To people who believe that our houseless neighbors just aren’t trying hard enough at life, food preparation and delivery might seem like “enabling.” Wapner and his colleagues don’t see it that way. Asking people who experience homelessness to travel for a meal may mean asking them to leave their few possessions and limited security.
“I don’t want people to have to choose between the few belongings they have and food,” Wapner said.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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