Healing begins with good food.
You can’t minister to an empty stomach. Food insecurity and poor nutrition are among the most detrimental issues that limit quality of life, economic productivity, and overall health among the poor and homeless populations in our community.
As a Christian ministry, we want to feed people spiritually, but, first, we must feed them physically.
Chef Chris Carson, Kitchen Manager for the Panama City Rescue Mission, has brought his passion for feeding people to the cause of helping the homeless and hurting people of Panama City.
“We want to give them some wholesome meals with nutrients, vitamins, everything that they are not getting. That was my first goal,” Carson said. “The second was to teach everyone working in the kitchen how to make food correctly, to make real dishes and combine foods in a way that make a delicious meal. And to make meals from scratch – that’s how you get the best nutrients from food. When you get something out of a can, you lose about 75% of the nutrients it should have. You lose all the nutrients your body needs.”
With proper nutrition, people are healthier and have more physical strength, mental clarity, and the will to overcome hardships. “A lot of donations they get is just junk food,” Carson said. “They can’t live off that. Their situation will just get worse if that’s what they’re eating.”
Carson plans meals as if he would in a fine dining restaurant. “I don’t want to just throw random foods together — combinations that make sense, a protein, a vegetable that compliments and a salad with homemade salad dressings made from scratch,” he said. “My first night here, I realized there were families here and that might be the only thing they eat all day. And right then and there, I had a conviction that it is my job to make sure they eat right.”
Carson grew up in a family that cooked together and celebrated life around good food. “I developed the love of cooking from hanging out in the kitchen with my family,” he said. “We’ve always done everything in the kitchen – all the conversations, all the fun happened in the kitchen around food. That was just the biggest emphasis with all our family gatherings was food. All my happiness with family and friends is with food. That’s what it’s always been about for me.”
Carson wants to share that sense of joy with those who eat at the Rescue Mission. “However long they’re sitting in the dining room, whether it’s 30 minutes or an hour, if they can enjoy their food, they can forget about all their stress or the reason that they have to be at the Mission,” he said. “That’s what it’s about. I can alleviate the worry of that stuff through food, then that’s a success to me. And if it’s good food then that’s a bonus.”
“I think that everyone here is making better food choices now,” he added. “I can tell that they appreciate my version of food and healthier options than if you do that same thing in an unhealthy way. They love it. They want to eat better. They can’t wait to find out what’s for dinner.”