The many dark-stained cupboards, the multitude of modern appliances and the bevy of utensils signal the efficiency of a well-run kitchen. The sturdy table draped with a bright cloth topped by a lacey runner and a large bouquet of fresh flowers along with the bright floral-print valances on the generous windows and the touches of artifacts sitting atop the cupboards speak of a caring attention to detail. Only a sign-in sheet that must be signed by all who enter and the large tack board announcing who is on shift, along with other critical data of the day, hint that this is more than a residential kitchen.
Like all kitchens, it is the people who truly make this one home. Gail Koehle and Diane Kumagai are the two paid supervisors keeping the kitchen operating. They share much more than their collective twenty hours a week. They are both graduates of the forty hour hospice training course. And, while they each have distinct personalities and a unique area of expertise that contributes to the compassionate care of the residents, they share an infectious, humble warmth and generosity of spirit that sets the tone for the kitchen and permeates the House.
The fifty other kitchen volunteers, many of whom have been volunteering since the House opened in January 2008, contribute to the peaceful, heart-warming ambiance of the House. Six of the kitchen volunteers are men - a great bonus for the many male residents who appreciate a little foray into manly topics of conversation now and then. There are five two-hour shifts to be filled each day – a daunting challenge that can only be met when you have a bank of dedicated volunteers who are committed to the task week in and week out.
The over-arching commitment of all the volunteers is to use their creativity and expertise to the best of their abilities in service to the residents and their families. The residents are consulted on what they would like for a meal and every attempt is made to fulfill each wish. If a resident wishes to have ice cream at each meal, ice cream will be served. One gentleman with a sophisticated palate asked for Grande Marnier rum balls and Steak Tartar. Fingers flew on the computer as recipe sites were diligently searched and eventually Grande Marnier rum balls and Steak Tartar is what he got!
Residents are also encouraged, if they have the energy and show any kind of interest in being involved in the workings of the kitchen, to lend a hand. Some fold tea towels or peel potatoes. Some offer their own favourite recipes. There is a growing, treasured legacy of recipes from residents who have passed on, each bearing the name of its author. Like any home, this kind of time spent in the kitchen is very pleasant and leads to comfortable conversation, allowing the staff, volunteers, residents and their families to get to know each other, making the residents’ time spent at Ty Watson much more homelike.
Speaking on behalf of the volunteers, Gail Koehle sums it up, “The rewards of being a volunteer in the Ty Watson kitchen is not so much about the kitchen itself as it is about the relationships you form in that kitchen. Getting to know the residents and earning their trust so that they will share this most intimate and vulnerable time in their personal journey is a huge, huge honour. Though not all residents may let you in, when they do, it is a most rewarding connection, a true blessing.”