First, a couple of my favorite food quotes:
“What does cookery mean? It means the knowledge of Medea and of Circe, and of Calypso, and Sheba. It means knowledge of all herbs, and fruits, and balms and spices… It means the economy of your great-grandmother and the science of modern chemistry, and French art, and Arabian hospitality. It means, in fine, that you are to see imperatively that everyone has something nice to eat.” – John Ruskin
“The fact is, I love to feed other people. I love their pleasure, their comfort, their delight in being cared for. Cooking gives me the means to make other people feel better, which in a very simple equation makes me feel better. I believe that food can be a profound means of communication, allowing me to express myself in a way that seems much deeper and more sincere than words. My Gruyere cheese puffs straight from the oven say ‘I’m glad you’re here. Sit down, relax. I’ll look after everything.’
– Ann Patchett, “Dinner For One, Please, James”
In a previous entry, I discussed (likely at annoying length) my feelings about what hospitality means- the welcoming of guests in one’s house, and kindness to the stranger at your door. In a way, I feel that charity is another form of hospitality- perhaps a different definition of the same word: giving of oneself to make others comfortable.
A while back, a friend of my family asked if I would donate some baked goods to a meeting of the Red Door Society, the donors group for Gilda’s Club. For those who don’t know, Gilda’s Club is a support group for people with cancer and their families. This includes meetings and workshops for those with cancer, cancer survivors, caretakers, and even an arts-and-crafts activity group for children. The organization was started by famous Saturday Night Live comedienne Gilda Radner and her husband, Gene Wilder. Gilda was diagnosed with (and eventually succumbed to) cancer, and the couple established the organization on the belief that no one should have to face cancer alone.
Obviously, I said yes. You may have seen the pictures of my creations for that event on the BHB Facebook page (because you’ve liked the BHB on Facebook, right?)
If not, here they are- Red Velvet Doors, and Mocha Brownie Bites!
That’s not what this blog is about though.
Towards the end of the night, a few members of the group were invited up to share their stories. A woman told about how scary it was for her and her young family when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Gilda’s Club doesn’t ask a penny of any of it’s members, and the woman talked about how she no longer felt alone in the fight, her husband learned what to expect in caring for her, and her children could talk about everything and have fun at “Noogieland” (the children’s programming.) Every evening, all the programs would break for about 15 minutes, and everyone would convene in the kitchen area to snack, talk, and chat for a bit.
Even in the terrifying face of cancer, the Irish proverb is true: “Laughter is brightest where the food is.”
That night, I met the CEO of the local chapter and asked about donations. They are a non-profit organization, and start off each year with a budget of $0. Everything- EVERYTHING- they provide to their members FREE OF CHARGE, is donated or paid for with donated capital.
“…It means, in fine, that you are to see imperatively that everyone has something nice to eat.”
“‘I’m glad you’re here. Sit down, relax. I’ll take care of everything.'”
Not being an especially wealthy man, I asked if they accepted donations of baked goods. The answer was an emphatic “YES.” Those 15 minute breaks the young woman had mentioned always involve food- usually donated, occasionally cooked in-house.
I asked her if she’d be terribly opposed to a few dozen cookies or a cake appearing on the table every week or so, courtesy of the Black Hat Bakery.
I guess I’ll be a little more busy now.
I get to bake and try out new recipes.
The food gets eaten and enjoyed, by people who wouldn’t mind having something else to smile about.
That’s about as big a win-win as I can think of.
Whatever you can do for something you care about, do it.
Offer your time.
Bake cakes and cookies and give them away.
Hospitality doesn’t just happen at home.