The sun’s out on the back porch of Dan Tripp’s beige bungalow on 36th Street, near Ingersoll, and he and his longtime fellow musician friend Chris Lachky are cooking up fried chicken on a propane stove.
An eclectic mix of country and funk wafts through the house as Tripp slowly dips the buttermilk-soaked chicken into an eggwash whipped with vodka and his own secret blend of flour and different spices. (Note to self: Vodka makes the chicken moist and crispy.}
Inside, Tripp’s 10-year-old son Thurston pours syrup into little plastic cups. Thurston’s one-time teacher at Hanawalt Elementary, Tim Tutt, shakes up a plastic container of homemade honey butter made with fresh cream.
Friends Anna Kauffman, the daughter of the owner of Francie’s on the south side, and Jessi Allard, who lives downtown, mix together watermelon with a little lime, paprika and other spice. The waffles already in the oven are sweet, soft and crispy – per the instructions of Thurston’s discerning fourth-grade palate.
From about 7 am to 11 am every Saturday morning, a crew of friends assembles mouth-watering, home-cooked meals to deliver to more than 30 employees of a West Des Moines skilled nursing facility, where COVID-19 has loomed large, shifts are long and a worker shortage continues.
Calling themselves A Saucerful of Giving, they are all food-lovers who want to bring a smile to the workers’ faces as they carry out tough jobs that got a lot more difficult two years ago this month.
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“It’s very sweet,” said Lakisha Brown, a 34-year-old traveling nurse who has flown in from Louisiana to Iowa more than once to work at ProMedica, formerly ManorCare Health Services, during the pandemic. “It helps out a lot. We’ve been working our butts off. ”
The evolution of these Saturday mornings of service began years ago when, as a deacon at Central Presbyterian Church at 38th and Grand Ave., Tripp used to visit an elderly friend named Becky who was a shut-in.
Eventually, Becky moved to the nursing home. Tripp says she didn’t much like the food, so he started bringing in home-cooked meals for her – and then her roommate. He fed other residents too, but he discovered their strict diet restrictions prohibited him from cooking for too many others.
And so Tripp decided to bring food in for the workers, and noticed they really appreciated the gesture.
“About three years ago, I started making 10 meals, then 20 meals, then 30 meals,” he said.
Over time, Tripp said, friends who also love cooking joined him, and the fun atmosphere in his home every Saturday took hold.
All the volunteers have chipped in their own money to buy what they want to make – Cuban sandwiches, carnitas with homemade tortillas, even steak, and donors eventually followed.
“We aren’t bringing in Kraft mac and cheese. We’re making really good food, ”Tripp said. “The time we brought steak was the first time one of the workers had ever had steak.”
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Especially in facilities where private insurance doesn’t help cover residents’ costs, caregivers are often low-paid. Many of the employees in the West Des Moines facility do not have time or money to prepare good meals for themselves, Tripp said.
“I also found that if you make the help happy, you make the residents happier too,” he said.
The pandemic has been hard for most nonprofits. In Iowa, where almost half of all nonprofits in the state have 10 or fewer employees. about 76% reported being negatively affected by the pandemic, according to a University of Northern Iowa survey on the effects of COVID-19.
But as Iowa emerges from the hardship of the past two years, many, like Tripp, are still looking for ways that can ease the burden of others.
All new nonprofits in Iowa have to register with the Secretary of State’s Office, and any professional fundraisers they use have to register with the Office of the Iowa’s Attorney General. (The Iowa Non-Profit Resource Center at the University of Iowa has developed a good set of principles and practices that outline the best practices for Iowa non-profits for those interested.)
Tripp wants A Saucerful of Giving, which is a registered 501c3 not-for-profit with a board of seven, to serve workers in other nursing homes as well. He says he has been receiving more donations to make the home-cooked meals, and he would like to do even more, focusing on facilities that don’t benefit from private insurance.
“The plan is to expand to three facilities by the end of the year,” he said. “There’s been an outpouring of support, which has been really, really cool.”
Right now, the group can cook meals only one day a week “or we run into licensing issues and there will be some other licensing issues and certifications that need to happen,” Tripp said.
“Some weekends I still do it on my own,” he said. “But most of the time, there’s a group of us, and we all have a lot of fun. We all make good food. And we’re helping people. So it’s just a win-win for everybody. ”
Lee Rood’s Reader’s Watchdog column helps Iowans get answers and accountability from public officials, the justice system, businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at email@example.com, at 515-284-8549, on Twitter at @leerood or on Facebook at Facebook.com/readerswatchdog.
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