feeding the soul

We shopped for the food. 5 Kg of ground turkey.

3000 grams of pasta.

300 ounces of Marinara sauce.

LOTS of fruit and veggies.

Too much oregano (I am SO not good at conversions).

And garlic, lots and lots of garlic.

We gathered at The House in the big red kitchen and unloaded all our bags.

And for a few minutes we looked at everything piled on the big centre island and then at each other and almost panicked!

Feeding 30 families for the Home for Dinner program at the Ronald McDonald House™ of Northern Alberta is no small task! And yet, this is what three of the businesses from the Local4Local4Local program did this past Tuesday.

We may not have seemed a likely team, but we all had our roles and we worked well together. Kristi Larson from Bellies Maternity was in charge of the fruits and veggie trays. Maurice Tellier from The Koch Ford Lincoln group was our 'muscle' and also our amazing onion chopper and meatball roller. And I was in charge of the general timing of all the ingredients and dishes and the sauce and yes, I was the bossy one.

We arrived at the house just before 3 PM. I had also managed to convince my nanny, the fabulous Maria Sellis from Cupcake Addiction, to come as well and that meant she had double duty keeping an eye on my kids and helping out in the kitchen. If I have not mentioned this before..SHE IS AMAZING!! (And NO, you can not have her!)

If you have never been to the Ronald McDonald House in Edmonton (or your own city), then I encourage you to call and book a tour. They really are amazing establishments and provide what sick kids need the most - their families. The Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton is a leader in heart surgery for kids and three of the families we met Tuesday night had a child recovering from heart surgery or one who was waiting for their surgery date. Being able to stay in the house gives these families a home away from home, a chance to stay close to their kids and to keep their families together during these hard times.

As you walk through the huge common dining room, complete with a train-themed table for the kids and two big play areas, you hear conversations about g-tubes and pic lines. You see four-year olds, in cute red and purple slippers, walking around with their IV poles getting 'fed' through the aforementioned tube. You see whole families of siblings gathering around a table for a snack while Mom holds their 4 month old sleeping baby brother, the one who just had open-heart surgery.

I wanted to sit and talk to more of the families and hear their stories, but we had a job to do. We were there to feed these moms and dads and brothers and sisters. And so we worked. Kristi chopped and arranged. Maurice and Maria chopped and rolled. I stirred and mixed and cooked. And somehow, we managed to get into a good kitchen groove. We had the sauce simmering on one stove top, the pasta cooking on the other and rotating trays of turkey meatballs baking in both ovens.

And amidst all of this, my amazing children played. They played with each other and with the kids of the house. They played like there was nothing 'wrong' with anyone. Little C found himself an adorable little guy to play with and they were inseparable all night long. Princess L found a doll stroller and another little girl and they played house for a bit. She is still getting used to playing with other kids besides her brother and would come and hang out in the kitchen with us for a while and then head back to the play area for more fun with Little C and his buddy.

By 5:40 PM, our meal was almost ready. We made Spicy Turkey Meatballs in Marinara Sauce over linguine (thanks to Allium Foodworks for this yummy recipe), veggies with tzatziki dip and fruit and yogurt for dessert.  The front office made an All-Call to the residents of the house and they started to come down for dinner. One of my biggest fears going into this night was that we would not have enough food for everyone. We had PLENTY of food! The families that were home enjoyed the meal and thanked us for coming and cooking for them. Seeing everyone gathered at the tables in the common dining room and eating our dinner was great. Natural Urban Dad arrived about then and we all sat down and had dinner as a family with the house families. And when everyone was done we packed up all the leftovers and put them in the fridge for all the families that were still at the hospital to enjoy later when they made it back to the house.

The whole experience at the house was amazing for me, and I suspect for Kristi, Maurice and Maria as well. It may be just one meal, but it was one meal that these parents didn't have to worry about. One meal that nourished their bodies, so that they can keep going and stay strong for their babies. It was one night out of our lives to go and do good for others. One night to show my kids what it means to give freely of ourselves and to serve those in need.

I have to thank Kristi Hammond for creating the Local4Local4Local group and providing this opportunity for local businesses to come together to do such a good thing for the residents of our local Ronald McDonald House™. I also would like to give a shout out to our local food suppliers, Serben Free Range, The Italian Centre and Kuhlmann's Market Gardens.

I am looking forward to my next Home for Dinner night at the House and I encourage anyone interested to check out the program, grab a bunch of friends, your favourite recipe and head on over for a great night of cooking, camaraderie and good karma!