Culinary school taught me how to create good food,” says Darren, the 49-year-old lead cook at Union Rescue Mission. “But the one thing they couldn’t teach me was how to make soul food. I don’t mean African-American cuisine — I mean food cooked with love. My mom taught me how to do that.”
Over the past year, Darren has helped serve more than 1,300 meals a day to hungry guests on Skid Row, and every meal is served with passion, love, and compassion.
“I love to serve,” he says. “It comes from my upbringing. Our house was always the go-to house for the less-fortunate kids in our neighborhood. Mom taught me that food is a ministry.”
Last year, when Darren found himself out of a job, he found an opening at Union Rescue Mission that combined his two greatest passions — serving food and ministry to hurting people.
“When I first saw what’s happening on Skid Row, I was stoked,” he recalls. “I remember thinking, you mean to tell me I can get paid to cook AND serve these people? You’ve got to be kidding! I love every minute of this.”
Each morning when Darren arrives in the kitchen, he starts with a five-minute cry for the people he’ll serve that day, followed by the theme song from Rocky for inspiration and prayer with his staff.
“I love people on Skid Row,” he says. “I want to serve them the best meal I possibly can. And that’s soul food. Food made with love. And I tell you, every day I see miracles in this place.”
But Darren says the greatest miracle he’s witnessed was serving almost 4,000 meals at URM’s Thanksgiving celebration last year.
“I think I worked 85 hours the week before Thanksgiving, just to get everything ready. We had no idea where we were going to get all the food,” he recalls. “But just like Jesus when He miraculously fed 4,000 people, we found it. I worked 15 hours straight on Thanksgiving, but it only felt like three.”
Darren says his greatest reward is seeing people blessed by the food he serves. “Nothing’s more important to me than the people we serve who’ve come here to put their lives back together,” he says. “Working here is one of the highlights of my life, to get paid to work on Skid Row and serve soul food to these special people — and serve it with everything I got.”
Union Rescue Mission will serve more than 170,000 meals this holiday season and more than 4,000 guests at our Thanksgiving Celebration alone! It’s never too soon to start getting ready.
Great meals don’t just happen and they require far more than fancy techniques and perfect ingredients. The best meals are created with a heaping measure of love. And that’s Union Rescue Mission’s recipe for success at our annual Thanksgiving Celebration. Above is a brief peek at some of the other essential ingredients that go into this special day.
This Thanksgiving season, the Mission will serve more than 170,000 meals! In the past, thanks to hundreds of volunteers and generous donations from local markets, each meal cost only $2.08. But due to California’s ongoing drought, food donations have dropped and prices have increased, forcing the cost of each meal to rise to $2.41. In order to continue serving so many meals to hungry people on Skid Row this Thanksgiving season, we need your help now!
So please send the most generous gift you can today. Your gift of any size will be a huge help. Thank you!
Notes From Andy
I love Thanksgiving. It’s always been my favorite holiday of the year, especially at Union Rescue Mission. But this year, I’m looking forward to our Thanksgiving celebration with concern, as well as hopeful anticipation.
Thanks to California’s severe drought, food donations to URM have plummeted and food prices are skyrocketing. I’m sure you’ve noticed our cost to serve a meal here has risen from $2.08 to $2.41 per meal — meaning our budget for food this year will rise by more than $264,000!
And it’s likely to increase even more in the months ahead. I’m sure you’re experiencing the pinch of higher food costs, as well. So this could be a tough Thanksgiving season for all
of us. But I want to assure you that our commitment to serve “soul food” to all our guests, and our mission to transform lives, will never waver — not as long as generous, caring people like you stand with us and rise to meet this challenge.
As Chef Darren says, “. . . food is a ministry.” And “soul food” is food served with love. Well, YOUR love is what makes this “soul food” possible. So thank you for everything you do on behalf of hurting people on Skid Row.
3 thoughts on “The Mission – September 2014”
I have had the great pleasure of volunteering (front line serving) at Union Rescue Mission on my last two trips “home” to Los Angeles – this past Easter and again in July just gone. I’m looking forward to coming back “home” to the Mission to volunteer over the period of my Christmas trip.
I always enjoy receiving your e-mail updates and newsletters. I have particularly enjoyed this one, having worked with Darren twice now. I enjoyed watching Keith’s story last mailing as I’ve worked with him. And I’ve met Ruthie several times when helping with the breakfast set-up.
Thank you so much for helping us out at the Mission! It’s so much sweeter to know that you have personally interacted with the people in our Newsletters and videos!
Mr. Bales how do get involved by serving food in person or just any type of help the Union Rescue Mission might need. I would like to help in person to those who are in need and get to know them personally as well as yourself and your staff. Thank You Charles White