Chef Tiffany Sorensen fills the belly and feeds the soul for youth shelter

Imagine this: it’s Monday and you’ve got the week’s worth of meals to plan for your family. But you have no money in your food budget. Zero.

That’s the situation that greets Tiffany Sorensen of Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS) when she comes to work every week. As chef for the non-profit organization, which has been helping Edmonton street youth for more than 35 years, it’s her job to work with whatever happens to be available in her spotless kitchen, and sometimes that’s not much.

Though it has an annual operating budget of nearly $5 million, YESS has no money allotted for the 60,000 meals it provides yearly. It relies on nothing but donations from the community to feed its young clients, who range between 15 and 24 years of age. Even salt and olive oil is donated on an ad hoc basis, though there are some donors who specifically earmark funds for products such as the 20 to 30 four-litre jugs of two-per-cent milk consumed weekly.

“Every Monday is a black box. You never know what you’re going to get over the weekend,” says Sorensen, a Red Seal chef who has worked at YESS for 18 months. “So we have to make it work.”

Happily, there are supportive local businesses, including The Organic Box, Alberta Pork and Gordon Food Service, that make regular donations to YESS. It also occasionally receives top-ups from other non-profits with an oversupply of something, such as three cases of potatoes that recently made their way from Ronald MacDonald House. In the summer, a small garden at the shelter sprouts tomatoes and herbs. The shelter is able to accept donations of prepared food that’s made in a commercial kitchen.

Sorensen whips up amazing dishes with limited resources. The day I visited, she was stuffing pork loins with sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese for the noon meal, expected to serve roughly 25 to 30 people. Sometimes, however, Sorensen is down to pasta and tomato sauce, or relies on lentils to conjure a tasty soup with bare-bones support. Roughly 120 client meals a day are put together at YESS’s Whyte Avenue headquarters.

“The kids are pretty open to what we serve, but they are teenagers and you can’t please everyone all the time,” she says, noting that chicken fingers and french fries remain a popular choice for a special birthday meal.

Sorensen’s day in the kitchen starts at 7 a.m. Youth staying at Nexus, the overnight 24-bed shelter at 9310 82 Ave., enjoy a full breakfast buffet before heading out to tackle school, the job search or any of the other myriad challenges facing them daily. Breakfast includes two hot items, such as eggs, bacon or pancakes, as well as fruit, smoothies, cereal and toast.

After breakfast is out of the way, Sorensen readies for a hot lunch, which is prepared on Whyte Ave but served at the Armoury Resource Centre, a day program at 10310 85 Ave. run by YESS. Some two dozen youth involved

Source:: Edmonton Journal – Lifestyle

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