A Cookbook for the Homeless

By Beacon Staff

The role that a cookbook can play in promoting homelessness awareness may not be apparent at first glance, though it becomes clearer after an earnest contemplation of the relationship between food and comfort.

Heidi Long, a professional photographer and board member at Kalispell’s Samaritan House homeless shelter, points out that the term “comfort food” has meaning. Food is intrinsically tied to some of our sweetest memories, including those childhood family dinners that, through the amplifying tendencies of nostalgia, have turned many of our mothers into legendary cooks.

Those were comfortable times, but for a displaced family struggling with newfound homelessness, or a recently fired laborer living in a homeless shelter while he looks for a job, comforts are a lot harder to come by than they once were at mom’s dinner table.

“Food plays a psychological role in your emotions,” Long said. “That’s why they call it comfort food. Food is healing and sharing and caring. Food is love.”

Long and Samaritan House associate director Curt Lamm are spearheading a project in which recipes from restaurants, churches and the general public will be compiled into a 6-by-9-inch, spiral-bound cookbook with color photographs. The book will also contain statistics and other facts about homelessness, both nationwide and in Northwest Montana, as well as information about food such as storage tips and hunger stats.

After Long applies her professional design touches and the book is completed, copies will be sold to raise money for the Samaritan House, which provides shelter for the homeless along with transitional housing. The book will be available at participating restaurants and other locations.

The cookbook idea came from Lamm, who said he was trying to think of creative ways to spread homelessness awareness and promote the Samaritan House. He whittled his list of options down to either a calendar or a cookbook. Ultimately, a cookbook seemed to have more permanency than a 12-month calendar.

Another factor in the decision was the understanding that food is a universally common language. As Long says, “everybody eats,” so a cookbook has the potential for broad appeal. The book will serve as a tool to connect the community with the Samaritan House and its residents, which in turn raises awareness about homelessness.

“I think with homelessness, people don’t know how to get involved or don’t know homelessness exists here, or to what level,” Lamm said. “We’d like to raise awareness that it is here. It is an issue.”

As of last week, at least 12 restaurants and churches had signed on to the project and Long was working diligently to recruit more. Long is heading up the project’s public outreach and also donating her time to photograph many of the featured dishes. Lamm is writing the book’s text.

Restaurants pay $200 to advertise in the book and those proceeds will go toward printing costs. The restaurants thus far are North Bay Grille, Rising Sun Bistro, McGarry’s Roadhouse, Split Rock Café, Cabin Creek Landing Bed & Breakfast, Grille 459, Tamarack Brewing Company, Montana Coffee Traders, Showthyme and Belton Chalet. St. Matthew’s and First Presbyterian churches in Kalispell are also onboard.

In addition to restaurants and churches, Long is seeking recipes from the public. All told, she envisions having up to 200 recipes, including many with an accompanying photo. She is accepting submissions until Feb. 23. Some people who submit recipes will be asked to prepare the dish and bring it to one of two “bake-off” events in March to be sampled and considered for inclusion in the book.

The two-day bake-offs are scheduled for March 9-10 and March 15-16 at the Samaritan House’s administration center. Like the cookbook itself, the bake-off events will be an opportunity for people to learn more about homelessness in the valley.

“People have all of these stereotypes about homelessness,” Long said. “Most people are surprised to find out that many of the people in the shelter are employed.”

Long offered an example of how the community can lend a helping hand to the Samaritan House. Fittingly, it involves food.

“A lot of people don’t realize they can bring food down to the shelter,” Long said. “If you’re cooking, how about doubling your recipe and bringing some down? Restaurants can bring in food too. We can freeze things. Everything we get is utilized.”

“You often hear about what people do to each other,” she added. “This is an example of what people can do for each other.”

For more information, contact the Samaritan House at (406) 257-5801 or visit its blog at www.homelessintheflathead.blogspot.com. Heidi Long can be reached at (406) 261-2480 or [email protected].