With all of the programs we run and properties we manage, how does food service work? Last month, Content and Communications Manager Annie Smith spent an afternoon talking with and shadowing the in-house catering program on a regular weekday of work at New Narrative. This team prepares meals for sites across the agency. In the past year alone, the catering crew prepared around 130,000 meals for New Narrative properties.
I first met Ami Daniels, Catering Manager. She started working with New Narrative in 2009, about 1-2 years into the catering program’s existence at New Narrative. Catering prepares meals two days before the meals are eaten and delivers to almost all of New Narrative’s 40 sites, from the Mill Park Center in Northeast Portland to the Thrive Center in Beaverton. Additionally, the catering team takes on orders for special events hosted by New Narrative. The team puts together grocery orders for residential sites—for instance, sandwich materials—for meals. In addition to food, the catering team delivers supplies—including medications and the mail runs—to various sites. The food going out today will be eaten tomorrow night and the following day.
The team also has two outside contracts with Telecare. “We provide the same meal service daily,” Ami said.
The Secret Sauce to Catering Cohesion
The close-knit team has been working together for years. “The newest member on our team has been here for six years now,” Ami said. “Some of us are going on 14, 15 years of working together.” What is the secret to their success in retention? Ami paused to consider.
“We’re all family. We all care about each other, and we know what we need to do to get the job done. I don’t have to tell my crew members how to do their work, they just know what to do at this point.”
Ami points to the calendar hanging on the wall in the prep area, which holds all menu plans. “I plan everything one month in advance.” When asked about the meal choices, she said many are tried-and-true standbys, with some new ones thrown in every now and then. “Pinterest gives me some fun ideas,” she admitted. “I’ll make sure that the prep work is manageable for bulk orders, and we’ll give it a shot.”
Some recipes have to be bypassed simply due to the issues that come with larger-volume orders. “If a recipe calls for a few onions, then you have to multiply that. Before you know it, you’re looking at chopping 60-70 onions. Imagine the tears.” Carlos and Josh, two of the catering team members working on the current order, laughed.
“Korean Beef Bowls” are one of the popular meals served according to the feedback the team has received. Josh noted, “some of our menu recipes are a closely-kept secret.” Fair enough!
Mike, a team member who packages up the finished products to be delivered, was working on an order of cod when I met him. When asked about what keeps him engaged in the catering work, he paused. “The comradery in our team is great. The work is easy, but challenging and quick so I never get bored,” he said. “The benefits and pay are pretty great as well,” he added.
Catering to Mental Health
New Narrative’s in-house catering program is a unique addition; many mental health and housing providers do not offer this kind of service from within their agencies. Having the work done in-house personalizes the service: the catering team are familiar faces to many residents and staff at New Narrative’s housing properties. The delivery driver on shift that day, Jamison, mentioned that his favorite part of the job is getting to know the residents. “It can be intimidating at first to meet the people at our sites, but over time you build this trust, and they say hey when they see you. That feels good.” He added, “The team atmosphere is great, too.”
It was clear from making the evening’s delivery rounds with Jamison that many house managers and residents enjoyed the weekly ritual of catching up, if only for a few minutes, while supplies changed hands. One manager talked sports with him; another greeted him quickly with a smile and a quick story about the day. Jamison alternates between the East and West sides of town for deliveries. The route comes second nature to him after years of working with New Narrative. After working in other delivery jobs, he says New Narrative stands out as a great environment for the work.
“It’s good, feeling like I’m a part of something positive, you know?” he said.
Support New Narrative as we continue to provide services and nourishing meals to our participants—donate today.