Earlier this past summer, we challenged Anna to come up with some ‘mission projects’ centered around community service. She spent the last year in the YMCA Leader’s Club, where she had to spend at least 10 hours a month volunteering. To reinforce what she was learning, I offered up resources at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies to help with the project(s) she put together.
Scan back through my blog, you’ll find a post about the Ronald McDonald House in Durham (RMHD), and my last one about ‘The Why’. If you combine those two, you’ll understand why serving dinner for guests at RMHD seemed like the perfect combination for one of Anna’s mission projects.
We wanted to make a dinner that everyone would enjoy, but also create an experience that was special. Pasta is a common dinner, but we decided to make it fresh, on site, using a hand crank pasta maker.
And rather than sauce from a jar, we opted for fresh marinara starting with real tomatoes, carrots, onions and fresh herbs from our garden. We added a salad of organic greens and spinach, along with loaves of organic whole wheat baguettes from our friends at Whole Foods Market, and kicked it up a notch with a roasted garlic and butter sauce. And of course, we baked up a fresh batch of our ‘magic cookies’ to finish things off.
RMHD recently expanded and has the capacity to house up to 55 families at a time. For our meal, we were told to plan on feeding about 75 people. That’s a lot of hand made pasta, so we enlisted the help of two of Anna’s friends, Elise and Oliva.
After a busy day in our kitchen getting as much prepared as possible, we headed out for Durham to start cooking in their spacious state of the art common area kitchen. We wanted to make sure the guests enjoyed a memorable meal, prepared from scratch with extra love and care.
We had the chance to meet and talk with several of the guests while preparing the meal. Fresh pasta is a real treat to eat as well as watching it being made. It was fun getting to know the families while we were busy cranking, stirring and preparing the meal. We met one family who was spending their last evening at RMHD, returning the next day to Bethel, Alaska. Her daughter had come to Duke for ear surgery and they spent about three months at the house. I tried to calculate the distance from Durham to Bethel, but Google maps simply could not return the calculation – rest assured it is a long way from their home.
The dinner rush came at 6:30 when they announced our menu to the house. We helped guests, some weary from a long day at the hospital, navigate the buffet line and made sure everyone was served.
When we were almost ready to close up, a husband and wife came down with their daughter for dinner. While the father attended to the daughter, the mother filled up her plate. She was happy, smiling, and very grateful, so I struck up a conversation by asking about her stay at RMHD. She explained the details of her newborn baby’s condition and the challenges she faced. I listened intently as she described how doctors were working to correct something never before seen in medical history.
It seems that her internal organs where not developed and she would under go multiple surgeries to have any hope of correcting the problem. That day, the newborn was fighting an infection from the last surgery. If everything went well, she said they might return home for Christmas.
She went on to explain that as a child, she too faced serious health challenges and was herself a patient at Duke Children’s Hospital. The entire time we spoke, she had a smile on her face and seemed genuinely happy. I held back tears and was both honored and humbled by her story.
I wish that I could tell you that our cookies (and the rest of our meal) somehow contributed to her happiness, but that would simply not be true. Her happiness came from her faith and gratitude – plain and simple. This was one case where I was actually the recipient of her happiness, not the other way around.
After the last guest was served, we cleaned up the kitchen and put away the food. We left behind a couple of cookies and some leftover pasta, but I suspect that it disappeared by the next day.
I’ve thought about this experience over the past weeks and wanted to share a couple of thoughts. First of all, I am grateful to our customers. Without your support over the years, it would not be possible for us to do even small projects like this one, and give something back to our community.
Secondly, it reinforces the rewards of being of service to others. Of doing something, whether it is making cookies, preparing a meal, lending a hand or sometimes your ear, to bring a brief moment of happiness to someone else.
And finally, it serves as another reminder of the importance of perspective. We are fortunate that Anna’s Gourmet Goodies has been growing this past year, but like any business, we’ll face challenges and obstacles in the coming months and years. But probably none as great as that young baby lying in a bed at Duke Children’s Hospital, waiting for the skill of the surgeon’s hands to give her the opportunity to live life itself. In comparison, I have no problems.
RMHD sent us a nice thank you note after the dinner, but it was really us who should be thanking them. My friend and the director Oie Osterkamp told me that one of the board members suggested that the letters RMHD really stand for ‘Real Miracles Happen Daily’. After spending a little time there, meeting the guests, and hearing their stories, I’d have to agree. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to come along for the ride.