When Susan one day opens her restaurant, “Susan’s Choice,” I hope to be among the number invited to the grand opening. If anyone can do it, she can. She is a pleasant and friendly force to be reckoned with.
Susan was kind enough to sit-down with me at Central Union Mission, where she works as the chef for the lunchtime meal, preparing food sometimes for upwards of 180 men daily. She is a busy woman with boundless energy. She began in this capacity in August of last year, interestingly, as the first woman chef there. “There was an adjustment period,” she shared with a hearty laugh, “but they got used to me.”
Much like some of the pre-kindergarten students that I once taught, broccoli still looks a bit creepy to me. And water chestnuts? No, thank you. How about cucumbers or garbanzo beans? Not a chance, unless my wife hits me with the Jedi mind trick, but that would change if I were at Central Union Mission because Susan is serious about the need to eat fresh vegetables. She finds ways to get them into the meals that she prepares as often as possible, which basically means every day.
With a big, inviting smile, Susan gets cooking honestly. It was intriguing to learn how she got started. “I have two sisters. I’m in the middle. I was raised with a single mother who worked a full-time job, and was not gonna come home and have to cook meals for her girls. She taught us how to cook.” Through a combination of trial and improvisation, rotating with her sisters preparing meals at home, things began to click for her early-on and now whether at home or at Central Union Mission, Susan loves to cook.
To see her in action bustling in and out of the kitchen, traversing the cafeteria is to see someone who loves what they do. She knows that her work is important and valued, that she is satisfying the bellies of the lunch crowd as well as feeding their souls with her spirited personality and conversation. When asked about the rise in DC’s homeless population over time, she said, “I don’t even remember seeing anybody homeless when I was growing-up, now that I think about it. Not really. Not like now. It’s so more public; so much more public. And also for me, I can see it so much more now because of where I work. I really see the homeless people now.”
Might we all have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hands to act on behalf of those whose voices can easily go unheard. At least for her lunchtime operation, Susan said that the most popular meal, by a landslide, is fried chicken with macaroni and cheese. Who can object with those vittles? Susan treats the men of Central Union Mission like friends, or family members even, who are over for a home-cooked meal. The food is important, and she excels in that area, yes, but the dignified conversation and engaging personality that she offers is first-class as well.
We need more people like Susan who choose to connect their passions with needs in their community.
Founded in 1884, Central Union Mission is a faith-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with seven locations throughout the Washington metropolitan area. In addition to its family ministries, the Mission operates an emergency shelter program, a rehabilitation program for men with life-controlling issues, a food, clothing and furniture distribution center, a retreat and recreation center with a camp for underprivileged children, programs for isolated seniors, computer and job training and transitional and low-cost housing. The Mission also offers work force development programing and literacy and educational training opportunities.
The Mission is continually developing its programs to meet the changing needs of the community. Its current programs serve homeless men, underprivileged women, children, seniors, families, and veterans.
One life at a time, the Mission works to help transform the area's toughest rehabilitation cases, including drug addicts, gang members, criminal offenders, and the chronically homeless into productive members of society. The Mission's programs have an extremely high success rate at helping individuals overcome addiction and homelessness, and achieve independent living.
Our work at Central Union Mission is to proclaim the Gospel, lead people to Christ, develop disciples and work to meet the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of the people we serve. We strive to always display a gracious, sincere spirit of integrity and Christian love in everything we do. By displaying excellence in all aspects of this ministry, we honor God and inspire the people we serve, our community, donors, volunteers and staff. Our motto is serving neighbors...changing lives.
Guest Writer: James Ellis
James Ellis leads Peace Fellowship Church located in Ward 7 of the District. He is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University, and the University of Maryland. A writer at-heart, he enjoys blogging (via Day1 and The Huffington Post) and is the editor of Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil: Stories about the Challenges of Young Pastors. He loves lemonade and bowling, and showing people that introverts can be cool too.