Monday, October 26, 2009

Mobile Hospitality: What to Bring?

This post is rather long; you might consider "bookmarking" it for future reference after quickly skimming it.

Since I've defined "mobile hospitality" as bringing food/hospitality to others, it's important to know what kinds of food you can bring! There are several concerns to address when picking a recipe/menu.

1. What are the allergies (or severe dislikes) of the recipient? Always determine this upfront. Today, many people are highly allergic to very normal ingredients: peanuts, wheat/gluten, eggs, soy, and so forth.

2. Are there any strong preferences? Sometimes this question is important, especially if young children are in the home. You might as well bring something they will eat!

3. What are their limitations? Is the primary chef completely incapacitated and it's up to children/elderly/inept adult to reheat the meal? Is the family moving and without dishes/cups/pots and pans? Do they have an erratic schedule because they're at the hospital at random hours of the day/night? Will they be entertaining others during this time? (especially likely at a death or during a move if people are helping packing)

4. What are your own limitations? Budget? Time? Inability to run out to the store quickly? Don't like to cook? Do like to cook? You can always team up with someone else to prepare a meal together--one person brings the main course and the other brings salad and bread or something to that effect.

5. Remember that nearly anything can be taken/offered if it meets the following criteria:
  • can be reheated, if necessary, easily
  • can be taken in dishes that don't need to be returned, if possible
  • requires minimal "last minute" effort
  • is something you yourself would enjoy eating/receiving
  • could be stored a day or so or put in the freezer if the recipient has other food as well
6. Remember, too, that part of a meal is often just as welcome. Showing up with homemade muffins or bread will cheer anyone up! Bringing all the "fixin's" along with a pound of BBQ from a local restaurant, a big bag of fresh fruit, or some already-prepped snacks for kids could be your contribution.

7. It's the details that really show some extra thoughtfulness: include a kid-friendly dessert, remember an upcoming birthday or acknowledge an upcoming holiday (I included red and blue Jell-O jigglers in star shapes when I took someone food around July 4th--the kids loved it), remember the napkins and utensils for someone moving, include some fancy hot chocolate mix or tea/coffee, etc.

8. Finally, if you already have a specialty that everyone raves about, read no further! Do you make amazing, decorated cookies? Let the coordinator know you'll bring dessert and then decorate like crazy. Is there a dish everyone comments on when you bring it the church potluck? Stick with what works. You can have a "stock meal" that you always make whenever you bring food to someone; it likely won't be the same person very often, so there's no need to reinvent the wheel each time.

With those guidelines in mind, consider some of the following ideas. If you're part of a group that is taking food over the course of a few weeks, you might check to see what others are bringing. You don't want each to show up with a chicken casserole.

Main Courses
(all of the items below are easy to fill out with a simple bagged salad and loaf of bread or chips or cornbread)

Baked Pasta Dishes
  • easy to cook, easy to freeze, easy to transport, can be very cost effective or bought ready-made and still be delicious!
  • includes things like lasagna (Stouffer's is popular, delicious, and easily available--a good option if you don't/can't cook), manicotti, chicken spaghetti, baked rigatoni, etc.
  • like baked pasta dishes, these are easy to make, easy to transport, often economical, and freeze easily; in addition, they are easily rounded out by a bagged salad and starch of some kind
  • any kind of chili
  • homestyle, hearty meat and veggie soups (with or without noodles, rice, or other starch)
  • home-y soups like potato, chicken and dumplings, etc.
Comfort Food
  • especially welcome during times of trial/stress; usually a crowd-pleaser
  • includes things like Chicken Pot Pie, Shepherd's Pie, Meatloaf
  • if you're taking food to a small family--perhaps a couple who's just had their first child--then make a bigger pot roast, extra mashed potatoes, and such and simply bring over the leftovers
  • Grilled meats or a ham that taste good hot or cold, can be used in salads or sandwiches
Ready-made Favorites
  • don't have time to cook? Pick up a main courses, fill out with other storebought items or fix the accompaniments yourself
  • Particularly good for people moving: Deli tray or pizza
  • Other good options: BBQ, fried or rotisserie chicken, spiral sliced ham
Non-Bagged-Salad Side Dishes
  • if you have extra time and/or think the person might be getting tired of salad
  • Speedy Rosemary Green Beans (bag everything together and write directions on it; stick it in their freezer) or any bag of frozen veggies with cooking directions and/or special seasonings attached
  • Spinach Maria or Spinach Souffle
  • Potato dishes like Twice-Baked Potatoes, simple baked or sweet potatoes, make ahead mashed potatoes
  • Cold sides like Coleslaw, fruit salad, Jell-O salad, veggies and dip
  • Quiche (transports easily and can be eaten for any meal of the day)
  • Muffins
  • Homemade Bread (yeast bread or quick breads)
  • Homemade Granola
  • few people think of this, but if a family has young children and they are tied up moving or tending a sick relative in the hospital or something like that, already-prepped snacks can be a welcome addition
  • cheese (cut up) and crackers
  • jello squares
  • snack mix/trail mix
  • granola bars
Desserts/Sweets (yum!)
  • Brownies
  • Cookies
  • Snack Cakes (the kind that don't need icing)
  • Homemade pudding
Special Circumstances
  • People Moving won't have lots of dishes available, so take food that won't need reheating and/or can be eaten easily with disposable plates/utensils if necessary; in addition to food, they would appreciate drinks/cups and napkins
  • Ethnic Groups: if your church ministers to an Asian group, for instance, you might be called upon to take food to someone from China. Perhaps a bag of stir-fry ready veggies (all chopped up), some cut up meat, and some cooked rice would be a good idea. They can throw together a quick meal from that point.
  • New Moms: it's best to avoid spicy foods and hard-to-digest foods such as cabbage or beans that can cause distress in a nursing baby. Sometimes, nursing mothers don't have to avoid anything, but you never know those first couple of weeks. Keep it simple.
  • Texture issues: very young children and sometimes the elderly have trouble chewing hard, crunchy items. Instead of sending salad or carrot sticks, you might offer a cooked vegetable or some options (cucumbers, for instance, are softer than carrots) or even a fruit dish like applesauce or jello salad.
  • Erratic Schedule or Impaired Immune System: A person may need to minimize the number of visitors to the house if a very sick person is being cared for. If they are back and forth to the hospital at random hours, then it can be hard to coordinate with people bringing food. Sometimes, it's best to group together and each provide a meal for the recipient's freezer. One person can work with the recipient to meet up and drop off the food all at once.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mobile Hospitality: How to Get Started

You've identified a good candidate for mobile hospitality. Now what?

First, make sure you really want to serve in this way--

it is an opportunity for service, but don't do it out of obligation. (Hopefully, you do feel motivated to serve in this way!)

Second, ask the person in question!

Call, email, text, ask in person.... it doesn't really matter. What you say is more important than the medium you choose. For instance, don't say, "Do you need anything? I'd love to help you out." The person will likely say, "Oh, thanks, but I think we're okay."

Instead, be very specific. Say something like this: "I know times are rough for you guys right now. I'd really love to bring you a meal to help you out. What day is good for you?" OR "I'm going to the store tomorrow and wondered if I can pick anything up for you. I can swing by your place on my way home. Do you need any milk? or cereal? Want me to pick up a rotisserie chicken?" OR "I know you're moving Friday, and I'm sure you're quite busy this week! Please let me bring something by tomorrow for you and your family to eat for dinner. What do your kids like to eat?"

You get the picture. A specific request/offer like those above shows the person in question that you really are serious and want to do this. Sometimes, you can assume that they will accept (for instance, when a mom has just had a baby!), and just announce you're coming by in a day or two.

If your church has people in place already who coordinate these types of ventures, seek that person out and volunteer. Our nursery coordinator takes care of new mothers, our women's ministry directors help with meals related to a death, and we have a woman who coordinates a freezer in the church kitchen, making sure it's stocked with various things someone could to take to a widow or shut-in on a visitation. The other occasions (morning sickness, moving at the end of the week, child in the hospital, and so forth) are just done by whoever sees the need. There are a few of us who regularly do this sort of thing, and we usually send an email around asking if anyone's gotten the ball rolling yet. If there is someone official who takes care of meals, you are better off signing up on their rotation or volunteering to be on their list. Otherwise, you might take more food than can be eaten by the family in question or "step on someone's toes" if this is their "official ministry." I can guarantee that those who normally coordinate meals love to have a "regular" they can count on when a need arises!

Once you've figured out a need and/or volunteered to be on a coordinator's list, what do you take to the family in question? What if you don't cook? What if you work all day and don't have time to fix a "home-cooked" meal? Or, what if your budget is tight and you can't afford to bring lasagna to a family of 8? We'll answer those questions in our next installment, so stay tuned! There's a solution for everyone.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mobile Hospitality: Who Needs It?

We're called in Scripture to practice hospitality, to serve others, to love our neighbors as ourselves. One of the best ways to do this in our modern society is to bring that hospitality to others: to give hospitality wheels and make it mobile.

I've written before about hospitality on full tummies (keeping your freezer stocked and practicing hospitality on a budget), but I thought I'd write a bit more on this idea of mobile hospitality, partly because I've been given numerous opportunities recently in which to practice it!

What is mobile hospitality? I'm using the term to refer to meals and food we bring to someone in need. Everyone has to eat. Frequently, that's one of the easiest needs for someone outside the family to provide when the family (or person) in question is struggling in some way. In addition, it's one of the socially acceptable needs for us to help meet for someone else; if you offered someone money, he or she would most likely turn it down, especially if you're not related or a close friend. But if you call someone up and offer a meal, he or she often accepts. Both money and food might be lacking, but people will feel more comfortable accepting food than cold, hard cash. In our modern society, most people do not live in the same cities as their parents and other relatives. It's more and more up to the church to step in where relatives might have stepped in years ago.

So, who needs this mobile hospitality? The classic three occasions for bringing food to someone are the following: birth of a new baby, death in the family, or moving from location to location. Those are certainly times in which people appreciate a good, home-cooked meal. But what about other possibilities? If you start thinking and looking around, you might notice myriad other opportunities for mobile hospitality. Consider the following scenarios, all of which have occurred to my friends in the past year. I've been fortunate enough to be in a place where I could serve them.
  • A mom is struggling with extreme morning sickness upon the discovery of an unexpected pregnancy. There are 5 other young children at home as well. Does she feel like cooking for, much less eating with, her family?
  • A mom is spending all day at the hospital by the bedside of a very sick child. The husband is spending all night with the same child. The remaining children have been farmed out to friends in the area. When they return from the hospital, the cupboard and fridge are bare, and the mom still needs to provide care for her child.
  • A woman's mother is dying of cancer, is in the care of hospice, and the woman wants to spend as much time as possible with her mother during these last precious days of life. She also has a family of her own. A meal brought by someone enables her to spend more time with her mother instead of cooking at home.
  • A mom is fighting cancer and goes in for chemo treatments every other week. She is weak and sick those weeks, yet still has a 5-year-old and husband 9who works full-time) at home who need to eat.
  • A woman has a knee replacement and her elderly parents live with her and her husband. She will be unable to move around without crutches for a number of weeks.
  • My mother-in-law broke her arm and faced a lengthy recover. Her elderly parents are also living with them. The only person able to cook and take care of household needs using more than 1 arm is my father-in-law who is at work all day.
Do you think these women and their families appreciated the groups of people who got together to bring them meals over the course of days or weeks? You bet. Here's a good rule of thumb to use when ascertaining if a person or family could benefit from a meal delivered to their door:

If the primary cook and/or one of the primary caregivers is legitimately needed elsewhere or incapacitated in such a way that he or she cannot provide meals like normal for the family, then a meal is welcome. This is particularly true when there are dependents in the household who cannot fend for themselves: children, the elderly, the disabled.

Chronic illness, short-term serious illness, major transition (job loss, moving, etc.), lengthy power outages, births, deaths, a caregiver off visiting a sick relative, and so forth--all provide opportunities for the rest of us to serve!

So, how do we practice this mobile hospitality? Stay tuned for some ideas (including ideas for setting the wheels in motion as well as what to bring). Can't cook? We'll cover that, too.