I remember waking up to the smell of a burning campfire. It was only last week but seriously feels like months ago. Convinced there was a fire in my building, I ran outside. After taking a breath of not-so-fresh-air, I quickly realized that San Francisco was blanketed by a smoky haze.
Weird, I thought to myself. I had plans to go surfing that morning, so I hopped in the car and drove down to the beach. The radio stations mentioned fires up north, but I didn’t fully understand the magnitude until later that day.
This was bad. Really bad.
Over a dozen fires were burning beloved communities in Northern California. It hit so close to home. Calistoga is my favorite place to escape the city. Santa Rosa is home for some of my closest friends. Sonoma and Napa are destinations filled with memories with my friends and family.
I absolutely had to do something and decided to offer my help in my most meaningful way: food. One of my best friends was heading up to Santa Rosa, so I decided to make a few pans of lasagna for her to take up.
It’s the ultimate comfort food. In fact, I always bring a pan of homemade lasagna to my friends who have just become new parents. One pan can last several days and tastes even better when you reheat it later. Most of the shelters were only accepted non-perishable food, so although it would be challenging to manage, I really wanted the brave first-responders and displaced families to have a fresh, warm meal.
I woke up on Wednesday morning, grabbed my phone and opened Instagram. After seeing post after post from my talented food blogger friends, many acknowledging the tragic fires, it hit me. I can’t be the only one wanting to offer my cooking. It was time to lead.
the game plan
Step 1: Find a space
Before I could advertise the event, I needed a large kitchen that we could access for free. Cookhouse, located in SF’s North Beach neighborhood, is the creme de la creme of culinary event spaces. The kitchen drawers are stocked with every utensil imaginable and pans of all sizes. The large communal kitchen is perfect for a group cooking session. After a quick email, the owner of Cookhouse – Jen Wu – donated the space for Friday morning. Venue, check.
Step 2: Gather volunteers
The power of social media for activating people is insane. On Wednesday morning, I posted our “CK Lasagna Drive” on Facebook and Instagram. Within minutes, friends–and people I’d never met before–sent DMs, left comments, and emailed over the next two days. I created a Google spreadsheet for people to sign up for one of two shifts. Those who couldn’t volunteer their time were eager to contribute to the grocery cost. The support was incredible.
Step 3: Shop
Thursday was dedicated to groceries. I had found two lasagna recipes: one with meat, and another with only veggies. I created a spreadsheet to calculate the ingredients for 48 – yes, 48 – pans of lasagna.
Where do you go to buy 40 pounds of ricotta cheese? Cash & Carry. It’s like Costco but there’s no membership needed; you’ll find restaurant owners and managers shopping there. Because we were buying everything in bulk, we were able to get the food cost down to a little over a $1 per serving.
Step 4: Cook
Friday was a whirlwind. I arrived at Cookhouse early in the morning to unload groceries and setup the various stations: chopping onions, dicing zucchini, boiling noodles, etc. Our first shift began at 9am and 15 volunteers showed up eager and ready to help! The goal was to crank out 24 pans of lasagna until 11am, then do it all over again with the second shift from 11am-1pm.
As people entered the kitchen, I couldn’t believe how people just showed up to help. I didn’t know half the volunteers (and they didn’t know each other), but by the end of each shift everyone was exchanging emails and Instagram handles.
Step 5: Deliver
On Saturday morning, my friend and I drove up to Sonoma and delivered the lasagna to the food command center. They made their way into a refrigerated truck headed to various drop-off points for first-responders. The fires had actually spread in Sonoma on Friday night, so locals were nervously watching the fires and prepping to evacuate.
In the food community, we always talk about how food brings people together. This is usually a statement about gathering around the dinner table. But, it was actually the preparation of food (and the purpose behind it) that united such a wonderful group of volunteers.
Also, thanks to those who made donations towards our groceries: Lastly, thanks to Cookhouse for donating their beautiful space.
Amy Hwang, Anna Voloshyna, Barbara Barrowman, Galyna Halavurta, Janet Komatsu, Jenna Zimmerman, Kristen Larsen, Kristina Cho, Kyle Perlmutter, Margaret Garbo, Marie Reginato, Melissa Smith, Miguel Reyes, Natasha Reddy, Reuben Alt, Sally Rogers, Sarah Nelson, Selin Vicalvi, Seti Shay, Shane Fryer, Sicily Johnson, Natalie Tereschenko, Victoria Stanell, and Wendy Winters.
Annie Garcia, Cindy Velasco, Dawn Garrison, Jackie Cartwright, Katherine Knowlton, Mike Osborne, Rachel Baker, Renee Frojo, and Sarah Salava.
Also, thanks to those who made donations towards our groceries:
Lastly, thanks to Cookhouse for donating their beautiful space.
It has been incredibly powerful to see the community band together to help our neighbors up north. However, this is just the beginning and rebuilding requires continued support. If you’re looking for a way to give to those in need, please consider making a donation here.