Emmaus Volunteer Profile: Marie Wolf

Today I was the sous chef at the soup kitchen. Marie Wolf, a volunteer at the soup kitchen and food pantry for seven years, brought me in and taught me how to prepare a meal for 150 people. We prepared pulled pork, potatoes with butter and garlic, fresh fruit, chili, and chicken and rice soup. I had plenty of questions for Marie. Because of all these questions I had, I decided to do an interview with Marie so others could learn, too, what Marie does when she works with Emmaus' cook, Shirley Whaley, in the kitchen.

Breanna: How often do you volunteer at the soup kitchen and food pantry?

Marie: I volunteer at the soup kitchen Monday through Friday every week for at least five hours a day. And I'm at the food pantry every Monday and Tuesday handing out bread. On those days, I come in and do set up for the soup kitchen and then do food pantry and then come back to the soup kitchen.

Breanna: Tell me about a typical morning at the soup kitchen: what do you do?

Marie: The first thing I do is come in and make a pot of coffee for myself and the Emmaus cook, Shirley Whaley. Then we stretch so we can limber up and lift those pots! (She laughs as she stretches her arms into the air.) There's a sort of schedule of things I do that includes cleaning - like folding the laundry from last night's meal - and preparing for today's meal. I look over the menu for the day and then get out all the things we'll need to make the meal. Then I'll pull out all our leftovers and see what of it we can use today. Then, we begin to cook.

Breanna: How did you learn how to cook?

Marie: Initially, I learned how to cook from my mother as a child. There were six kids in my family plus mum and dad. My mom and grandma's influence on me was more: "you need a pinch of this, a dab of that" rather than teaching me how to follow recipes.

Breanna: How is that different than the cooking you do at Emmaus?

Marie: I've come to learn how much of each ingredient is needed for a dish - but it's different than the "pinch of this, dab of that" method I grew up with. Remember, we cook for 200-250 people each day. For example, when we make cheesy potatoes, we need to know exactly how many pans of potatoes we need to cook to feed 200 people.

Breanna: And how do you figure that out?

Marie: Well, we start with a normal recipe that says "this will feed 10 people" and multiply to make the correct amount of servings we need. Over time, Shirley has done this and written a lot of the recipes down so that's what we follow now.

Breanna: What's difficult in cooking for 200?

Marie: One thing is figuring out how much seasoning or liquid goes into a dish. We have to keep tasting, tasting, tasting - just like they do on the food shows. Here especially, you have to watch how much salt or seasoning you put in and not overdo it.

Breanna: What's your favorite dish to make?

Marie: I love making Shepherd's Pie! It's what my mom made for us as comfort food when we were kids, so I like to make that for our guests. I also really like when we are able to serve fresh fruit. Having fresh fruit - especially in the winter months - is like a special treat. The guests really enjoy that.

Breanna: I didn't even know we served Shepherd's Pie! I know we serve hamburgers and hot dogs and fish and meatballs and chicken patties… How many different kinds of meals do we serve at the soup kitchen?

Marie: Quite a few! I'd guess we serve an assortment of ten casserole-type dishes, like the Shepard's Pie. And between beef, pork, and chicken products, we probably serve a variety of six to eight different patties. As for fish, we have two varieties: the cod and the haddock. Then for starches, we serve all kinds of pastas that we cook and we make a unique sauce for, along with many different kinds of potatoes that cook and flavor. Beyond that, we serve all kinds of veggies and fruit, too, that we try to offer each night.

Breanna: That is a lot! I'm not sure how you and Shirley are able to prepare all that each day.

Marie: We have a lot of volunteers who help us. And there are things we don't make but our volunteers really like to make for the guests, like lasagna. Volunteers are able to make things that Shirley and I don't have the time or ability to make in the kitchen.

Breanna: That's really incredible.

Marie: It is. From the beginning of Emmaus, we've gone from making just peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and some kind of soup we've made from a leftover bone to a 5-star restaurant with a meat, a starch, a vegetable, a soup, a salad, and homemade dessert every night. It's like going through a buffet line!

Breanna: Earlier you said each morning you pull out the leftovers to see what you can use for the day. What do you do with the leftovers?

Marie: Nothing really ever goes to waste here. We use leftovers in many ways. Sometimes, we use them the following day to offer as an alternate option for someone who can't eat whatever we have prepared. And in the wintertime, we use a lot of the leftovers to make soup for the next day. That said, we never get the same soup twice!

Breanna: Beyond cooking, what else do you do here?

Marie: On Tuesdays, when the inventory comes in from Curtze, I receive the food and put it all away on our shelves and in the freezer. I also receive donations and, in doing so, often restock and clean the shelves. And I answer the door and try to provide some sort of comfort for guests in a time of crisis.

Breanna: What keeps you coming back each day?

Marie: Well, I'm retired but I really enjoy getting up early, coming in and keeping busy. Are some days more frustrating that others? Certainly. But I'd have that even if I stayed home. I'm not a shopper, I'm not someone who sleeps in. I enjoy keeping busy.

And there's a type of fulfillment I get here - fixing food and being a shoulder to lean on and for guests to talk to. Making people feel good - it makes me feel good. It's more the days you go home with that good feeling that keep bringing me back than the days that you go home wondering why.

Read this story and more on the Emmaus Ministries web page.