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Monday, May 7, 2018

Sharing More Than a Home Cooked Meal

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Kitchen coordinator makes positive impact at Common Ground

As the kitchen coordinator for Common Ground Community Center, Sheira Foster is used to cooking meals for hundreds of people each week. Just the other day, she was preparing a meal for 276 hungry people. Her job went as it usually does, until she got a phone call from her daughter saying her water broke. Foster still managed to prepare a meal for all of those people and be in the delivery room when her third grandbaby was born at 6:30 the next morning.

You see, Foster has always been a giver. Before this job, she worked for 20 years as a certified nurse’s assistant. She says it has always been in her nature to give to others.

“Common Ground and what we do there has enriched my life in a different way,” she said. “I’ve always been a server and a person that always took care of people. It’s the same thing, just a different avenue.”

But Foster doesn’t just try to give them food on a plate. She says that she works with what she gets from the food bank to create a delicious meal that community members will enjoy.

“They know I realize they’re giving away food. One would say they should be grateful for what they get, but I try to make it an experience every week that I would want to have. I take pride in giving them a full-course, hot meal that is good.”

This job has made Foster a very resourceful chef. She has to be able to put together a meal, sometimes within a day’s notice. All of their ingredients come into Common Ground through the food bank, so she just has to work with what she is given. Foster says she loves the challenge.

“It’s always fun to see how it turns out or what I can come up with. It’s an adventure every week.”

Growing up in a family with seven other siblings, Foster said food was always important. But not just any food, it had to be good food. Their family grew up in the Cedar Grove area, and they lived a block away from Common Ground. About 10 years ago, Foster’s brother started spending more time at Common Ground. He eventually became the coach for the boys’ basketball team there. Foster brought snacks for the boys’ games and cooked for them. One day, her brother encouraged her to apply for the kitchen coordinator position.

“He said, ‘I was thinking it would be the perfect job for you since you are always feeding everybody.’”

Foster has only been at Common Ground as the kitchen coordinator for about eight months, but she says the numbers have grown considerably since she started. Before, they were feeding around 140 people, and now they feed up to 270 during their community meals.

“The Common Ground family is an awesome group of people,” Foster said. “I’m fortunate enough to be able to work with them.”

Although the kitchen coordinator job pays a small salary for a set amount of hours a week, Foster still finds herself volunteering more of her time. She doesn’t go home when she has finished cooking. Instead, she volunteers with the girls’ group teaching life skills as a mentor. She says that she just goes where she feels she is needed.

“I’m pretty close to half of the girls. I try not to force myself on them. I want them to know I’m there, and I’m truly there. I want them to come to me. Some of them move faster than others, but I have a special relationship with each one of the girls.”

Life hasn’t always been easy for Foster, but she has endured through the challenges. She says that she hopes she can make a difference in the lives of these young girls.

“I was a teen mother, so if I can deter or educate just one and save them from the path I took, then it would be worth it.”

Her grandma had a simple, yet wise saying. She would always say, “It’s nice to be nice.” Now, Foster has found that advice to be life-changing for the kids she helps at Common Ground.

“People say money is it, but not for me.

Smiles on the children’s faces and when they are coming up to eat and they want a hug – that’s where it’s at. To be that place where they can come, that’s it for me. You never know what somebody is going through, so if you just take a minute to be nice, it means everything.”

In addition to her job at Common Ground, Foster is taking classes to become a registered nurse. She has two math classes left, and then she’ll be able to apply for clinicals. In the meantime, she will continue to fill the bellies of community members at Common Ground with delicious home-cooked meals made with love.

“I believe that we are put here to serve and to aid. I just want to continue to be being the difference.”

– Jessica Carr

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