…three potato, four… five potato, six potato, seven potato… more! It is officially the beginning of March, which means that our annual February Potato Blitz here at House of Friendship has wrapped up its formal events. For most of February, the main office and many other HOF programs has been whirring with excitement and tasks to do in order to prepare for the three fundraising events that are held every year, during which people can donate either cash or potatoes to help us reach our 200,000 lb goal. The third and final event, the Community Potato Luncheon, was held February 24th at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church.
A few days before the event itself, Sandra (the head cook at the Charles Street Men’s Hostel) had begun talking with me about things that I could do to assist her on the day of the lunch. She had asked that I arrive at the Hostel at 8:20am on Friday morning, to help load up the cargo van with supplies and food. She had pre-warned me about the amount of things that we would bring from the Hostel; however, I don’t think I was expecting it to nearly be everything but the kitchen sink. There were pots, roasting pans, vegetables, nine pans of shepherd’s pie, napkins, potatoes for baking, potatoes for chopping, desserts and dessert trays, cream and sugar, aprons, tea towels…and that’s not likely even half of it. It was amazing to see how organized and thorough Sandra was in making sure we had everything we needed for the day. With the help of a few staff and a volunteer named Jeff who helped us throughout the day, the cargo van was loaded in minutes.
Then it was time to drive (carefully and slowly around corners, so as not to shift or spill the contents in the van) to the church. A few minutes later, Tony and I hopped out of the van and met a handful of people (hostel staff, Eby Village tenants and volunteers) to help unload the truck, and bring everything into the church’s kitchen.
As time quickly approached 9:00, volunteers came excitedly into the kitchen, ready to get to work. Hard-working and dedicated, Sandra had it down to a science, and literally had a job for everyone. Some volunteers immediately jumped into chopping vegetables, making vegetarian chili, cutting and buttering dinner rolls and filling water jugs to put into the cooler until it was time to put them on the tables. Others filled salt and pepper shakers, filled dessert trays, put table cloths on the tables before setting them and helped make soup. Volunteer Kelly Daly, who has made soup year after year for us, as well as his helper for the day – another woman named Sandra – spent the morning making delicious potato leek soup.
Time seemed to fly by as we all pitched in to make the food for the event. There was light-hearted chattering and joking among everyone, happy to be working together again for another year’s potato lunch. At 11:30, Sandra gave us the okay to put water jugs on the tables, and soon after, mostly everything – except for the baked potatoes – was ready to be taken into the serving room. Around this same time our executive director, John Neufeld, entered the kitchen with his camera, snapping candid photos of the volunteers hard at work. We waited until the baked potatoes were finished and then the volunteers who were going to be serving food to our 170 guests began to man their stations.
At the end of the lunch, John said a few words of thanks. Local churches, key volunteers for the potato blitz, the “Get ‘R Done Crew” (a few dedicated individuals who went around to the different supermarkets on the day of the Blitz to pick up hundreds of pounds of spuds), and many others were thanked. Another fun part which also happened at last year’s lunch was the 2nd annual “Soup Idol”. Eight contestants prepared soups which were tasted by a few judges, to see which one appealed most to their taste buds. After much deliberation, the Soup Idol trophy was given to one of our own staff here at House of Friendship: Alissa Attwood, from Kingsdale Community Centre. (Congratulations, Alissa!)
It is also customary for an update to be given on how we are doing at reaching our goal of 200,000 lbs of potatoes. Before the lunch, we had the equivalent (in both cash and spuds) of 188,000 lbs. After the lunch, because of peoples’ generous donations upon arrival, we had raised the equivalent of about 203,000 lbs of spuds, allowing us to surpass our goal!
Thank you so much to all of our amazing volunteers (over 35 of you!) who helped with set up, food prep, money counting, serving, clean up, and many other jobs. And to our generous guests around the community. Thank you all for giving of yourself and your resources to help our neighbours and friends in need. We couldn’t have made this Potato Blitz a success and we would definitely not have raised 203,000 lbs of spuds without you!