We receive many questions from our customers – where products can be purchased, which product is best for certain applications, product recommendations and many more. When someone asked if it was safe to use Cambro bus tubs to store hot pasta, it stood out a bit. Curious as to the application, we followed up with the customer.
The customer, Dyan Robles, is a regular volunteer with the Monday Night Mission. Her goal was simply to cook and serve hot pasta every Monday night to hundreds of people in the most economical way possible as she was spending her own money to do so.
Monday Night Mission was started by one individual, Mel Tillekeratne, in 2011 to feed the homeless on Los Angeles’ Skid Row. The group that varies from 10 to 75 volunteers meets every week night at 7:30 pm at the tables in front of the Burger King on Cesar E Chavez Avenue in Los Angeles. They assemble sandwiches and prepare to feed hundreds of people who have learned to rely on this group for help.
In Dyan Robles’ words:
Mel Tillekeratne started this project about 3 ½ years ago. Mel is originally from Sri Lanka. One day he happened on Skid Row and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “Am I living in the same place? I’m in Southern California and Hollywood and this exists here?” He was dumbfounded. Mel would buy hamburgers and bring them down there every Monday night. Then hamburgers progressed to PB&J. It went from Monday to Friday.
Only volunteers make sure that the food and all the necessary preparations are done. Before we even begin making sandwiches, we wash down all the tables at Burger King. We lay down paper. We use gloves. We provide a little handwashing station so we’re as sanitary as possible. All of the hot food is made at volunteers’ houses. Mel’s entrusted the food making to volunteers who have been there on a consistent basis for quite a while and he trusts us to make sure that things get done right.
Hot pasta on Monday nights for my shift and others make sandwiches and salads. I was using aluminum trays with aluminum foil on top of that. Then what I would do is put them in a cooler. The cooler would keep them hot but I was trying to figure out how to save money, not having to buy new aluminum pans every week! That’s when I contacted you to ask about the tubs instead.
Cambro helped the group by donating food pans and lids, insulated transporters and serving utensils.
Now we have containers that are NSF approved, we know that they are meant for food (unlike the bus tubs!) These pans hold quite a bit of pasta. I put them in the insulators that keep them hot and fresh until we’re down in Skid Row serving out plates. A few hours usually elapses between prep time, holding and serving time.
When we go down there [Skid Row], there’s already a line at 8:45pm. Everybody is very orderly and they know it’s first-come-first-serve and you must be in line. We serve teenagers all the way up to people in their 70’s and 80’s. We do have 2 lines—one for regular people and one for the handicapped. Believe it or not there are lots of people who live down there without legs, in wheelchairs, crippled, stroke, lots of physically disabled as well as mentally disabled people.
We don’t hand out any junk food. People used to donate food—they would bring down cupcakes, just great looking stuff, but a lot of people have diabetes, they have high blood pressure—a lot of ongoing health issues and we don’t need to contribute to that by giving them junk. PB&J is high enough in sugar so we don’t need to be handing out extra sugary treats.
We give out anywhere between 300 to 400 servings of food every night—but that doesn’t mean we have 300 to 400 people come through the line. A lot of time people will come through to get the hot food first then they go through again to get sandwiches. As the night progresses, people who just happen to meander by on Skid Row realize we are handing out food and will get in line. Usually one person gets multiple sandwiches. The reason why, especially with PB&J, is that it doesn’t go bad. They can have it for breakfast the next morning and lunch. They can save it for the weekend as well so they have food.
We’re feeding people what we would eat ourselves. There are a lot of groups that go down there and they throw something together and just start handing stuff out—you know, maybe day-old food, or hot food or whatever and a lot of people get sick from it. So that’s something that we’re proud of too—that people can trust our line and the food we give out—be it hot food or sandwiches or whatever.
We are a non-profit but we are not a registered non-profit. We are a people helping people organization. Usually when you’re trying to solicit donations from a big corporation, there’s got to be a tax benefit attached to it—donation receipt, etc. We can’t provide that. All we can provide is the proof that this is where the items are going. For the most part we don’t ask help from large corporations.
We pull it out of our own pockets. The people I volunteer with are all like family—all like-hearted and like-minded. We’re there for a purpose. We care for others. It’s not about a religion or a faith that you have to believe our way to avail of this service. We don’t expect anything in return from anybody down there. We always tell people if you can donate, great. If you can’t, it’s ok. Just being there and seeing what we do and spreading the word to let people know this exists—in beautiful Southern CA, Los Angeles… Skid Row exists. Just to bring more awareness to the plight of the homeless—we encourage people to attend just for that. That’s why I make my own pasta sauce every week. That was my original inquiry to Cambro—I was trying to save some money on aluminum pans. That’s when I saw the bus tubs at Smart and Final. They were the perfect size. Of course when I got home I started to think about the health conscious part—wait a minute! So that is what prompted the email to Cambro.
Pasta, in the grand scheme of things, although it’s not that big of a deal, it’s something they can count on once a week. And we can all be proud that there are more people like the Monday Night Mission volunteers — people who embody the change we all want to see.