Earlier this month, Anova announced its commitment to becoming a more responsible company. As a business, we have an obligation to not only minimize our impact on the planet but to give back to the community. As a smart kitchen company, we are in a very unique position to do exactly that. We make products capable of feeding hundreds of people at once. And that’s something to celebrate.
In this spirit, I am excited to announce the official launch of the #anovagivingnerd blog. Every few months, we will celebrate those in our community who are going above and beyond to help others. This month, I got to talk with UX designer turned chef extraordinaire Kelvin. Each week, Kelvin dedicates 15-20 hours of his own time to cook for over 60 people who are part of the Safe Parking Program in Seattle. The Safe Parking program provides a safe, reliable space to park for people living in their cars. It gives them access to restroom facilities and provides them with an added layer of security. It also connects people to much needed social services. This helps those experiencing homelessness find safer living conditions faster.
Kelvin’s dedication to the program and the people it supports is inspiring. Today, we are excited to highlight the cause that is so close to his heart.***WARNING: Kelvin's passion is contagious - you might catch it!***
Q&A with #anovagivingnerd Kelvin
Q: Kelvin, I'm thrilled to be able to share your story with the #anovafoodnerd community. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?A: I was born and raised in the Bay Area but moved to the Pacific Northwest about 25 years ago. I love Seattle for so many reasons! The mountains, the water, the fresh air and the people make it one of a kind. Everyone here is environmentally conscious, which is part of the reason I now work as a UX/UI Designer for Esri, a company that believes in nature conservancy. My passion for cooking started at a very young age. I use to watch my mom cook some of the most amazing Chinese dishes with minimal ingredients. We couldn’t afford to buy fancy food but that never stopped her. It’s a memory I have carried with me to the Safe Parking Program. People on a limited budget deserve to have a delicious, quality tasting home-cooked meal. It’s part of the human experience. Every week, the smiles, hugs and simple thank you’s I get are a reminder of how important this small act of kindness is.
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about the Safe Parking Program itself? A: I’d love to! The first official Safe Parking program started in Santa Barbara in 2004. A counseling center saw a lot of empty parking lots in the city and a lot of people who were living out of their cars. They had the genius idea to make these parking lots available to people in need. Working alongside local city officials and faith groups, they created the Safe Parking Program. It has now extended to cities like LA, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Barbara and right here in my home town of Seattle! I volunteer at the Lake Washington United Methodist Church in Kirkland. The church provides 65 parking spaces - making it the largest in Washington State. The program provides a safe place for individuals and families living in their cars. It keeps them near the communities where they once had housing. This is incredibly important for families who have children going to school nearby. It ensures a sense of normalcy for them even through a very unstable time. Many people in the program are survivors of domestic violence. The program provides these courageous women a safe place to stay while they get back on their feet. Others are there because out of pocket medical expenses have forced them from their homes. The cost of housing in Seattle is sky-rocketing, and many can’t keep up. The stories are heartbreaking and unimaginable.
Q: It sounds like an incredible program. How did you first get involved? A: As you know by now, I have a tremendous love for cooking! About 8 months ago, my friend Julie approached me. She convinced me to use my passion for something good, like serving meals to the homeless. It was the first time I had ever heard about the Safe Parking Program, which had started 7 years prior. I knew I had to do it – it was the ultimate volunteer position for me! I now run the program three Wednesdays every month and am completely hooked. I wish I could run it every Wednesday night but unfortunately, I still have a day job. Q: How many people do you cook for and how do you manage it all with a full-time job!? A: Since I started, the number of guests on a typical Wednesday has increased to about 60. On holidays, the number is even higher! I couldn't do it alone, and I am very grateful for the trusted volunteers that show up every week to support. They include old coworkers, my happy hour crew and friends that I recruited from my gym. Each week, I plan what I will be cooking based on what is available at a reasonable price point. I can generally feed our guests on average of $3 per person, which is much harder than it sounds! I then spend about 15-20 hours on grocery shopping, meal prep, cooking, serving and cleaning up. This is all on top of my normal day job. I usually prep the meals ahead of time at home in my kitchen. Sous vide is my method of choice since I'm cooking in such large quantities. It allows me to prep the food in the evenings and sous vide during the day. I want to make sure I’m providing the best meal possible since it means so much to participants in the program. And according to them, the quality of food is equivalent to a meal that you’d find at a gourmet restaurant! Due to budget constraints, many of our guests rely on eating unhealthy fast food for every other meal. It feels good to be able to give them something homemade. I also love the sense of community that sharing a meal brings.
Here's a vlog I made introducing the incredible volunteers that make this program happen. I also talk about my recipe for the week and how I went about preparing the meal. I love watching everyone's reaction when they try my dishes!
A: Everyone is so grateful for all the meals and the opportunity to be able to indulge once a week. Many program participants have come up to me after a Wednesday meal to tell me that the food brought back memories of better times. I remember one Wednesday in particular. I was serving 24-hour sous vide prime rib. A few of the guests had not had prime rib in over 10 years! It was truly a special moment for them and made me appreciate a lot of the things we take for granted. I’ve also had a few marriage proposals because, well, food is the language of love! But my favorite moments are always when I see people smile as they enjoy the meal I have prepared. It makes every second I spend cooking worth it. Volunteering with the Safe Parking program has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. If everyone found a way to use their passion to help others, we could really make a huge impact in the world around us! To donate to the program, please visit the donation page here. Every donation makes a huge difference in so many lives! Thank you for all you do Kelvin. If you want to hear more stories like Kelvin's, please sign up below and join our #anovagivingnerd community.
Q: What are some of your favorite moments from volunteering with the program?
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Until next time.
- Anastasia Plotnikova, CSR Manager