“I like mine crispy,” I said to Officer Quentin Miller of the Asheville Police Department. Along with fellow Officer Ervin Hunter, Miller was serving food to residents of Hillcrest Apartments and other individuals Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Carl E. Johnson Community Center. “That’s something we have in common, I like that,” he said, finding me the perfect piece of turkey bacon.
Beside it on my plate was sausage from Warren Wilson College, herb-roasted potatoes from Barefoot Farms, and eggs from Farside Farms — all donations, all local. Nicole Hinebaugh, Program Director of the Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation, dropped organic blueberries into the pancake batter that she was tossing from griddle to plate without pause. Locally roasted coffee donated by Dynamite Coffee Roasters and fruit juice rounded out the delicious offerings.
(pictured: Angelica Driver and a volunteer)
Even more outstanding than the food was the strong sense of fellowship. Over the last four Saturdays, the Hillcrest Resident Association partnered with the WWDF to serve a free breakfast open to all, offering speakers and community announcements along with time for togetherness. In honor of Black History Month, this collaboration is modeled after the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast for School Children Program, which fed thousands of inner city students during the late 1960s. Hinebaugh says that the event could have never happened without generous donations from local farmers and producers, including butter and fruit from West Village Market, and the financial contributions of area businesses like Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and others.
In the kitchen, secretary of the Hillcrest Resident Association LaShanna McMorris flipped sausage patties, washed fruit, and tossed potatoes while other volunteers sliced bagels and oranges non-stop. Everyone had a smile on their face. After the fury, LaShanna told me that she envisions the free breakfast program continuing as a monthly event that provides an ongoing opportunity for learning and wellness. The series this month had a focus on local foods, lending itself naturally to a healthy, balanced meal.
While we waited in line, I talked to a man who has been a resident of Hillcrest for nearly a decade. As he nears his 67th birthday, he says that he enjoys living close to family and neighbors. A lifelong resident of the area, he also loves fishing near where he grew up. “What do you fish for?” I asked. “Whatever’s biting!” he answered with a grin.
President of the Hillcrest Resident Association Otilia Harris lent everyone an ear, making sure everything ran smoothly and prioritizing diners and volunteers with her attention. Turnout for the program, now in its second year, was outstanding, with over 550 people fed throughout February. Treasurer of the Resident Association Angie Young says that to make the breakfasts sustainable the main need would be for volunteer time: cooking, serving, and speakers, as well as food donations from local retailers, growers, and producers.
Plans for future breakfasts are simmering and the next community event at Hillcrest will be cooking (metaphorically and on the grill) on March 8th. I spoke with Danny Suber, a biology student at AB Tech and one of the founders of the Hillcrest Community Garden. In partnership with the Organic Grower’s School, Hillcrest will host a garden workday on Friday, March 8, and an after-party complete with a cookout and performances by local artists. The main goals will be expanding garden area, including building fences to keep out those pesky groundhogs, and planting vegetable seeds and flowers. Suber hopes the garden can grow even more after soil testing and new plot planning is complete.
“It’s important!” Suber says. “People are hungry; we can be growing food to feed hungry people in our own yards.”
Work will begin at 10 a.m., wrapping up before other festivities at around 3 p.m. If you’re interested in volunteering or for more information, email Danny at email@example.com. For more information about WWDF, visit their Facebook page or their website, wwd-f.org.
Food brings people together, and that’s a big part of lifelong health. Look for ways you can help to strengthen our community through initiatives like the Free Breakfast Program and Community Garden events in the future.
Katie Souris teaches yoga, works at the YWCA and is a health advocate.