By: Natalia Baltazar
Nothing could be truer than the saying, “the kitchen is the heart of the home.” Among Empower Yolo’s many programs, we provide a safe house for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking. More than just a temporary refuge our confidentially located shelter provides a comprehensive empowerment program designed to assist survivors in becoming independent, empowered and safe from the violence in their lives.
For many of Empower Yolo’s clients staying in the safe house, the shelter kitchen can be a place of familiarity and comfort. Survivors arrive at our safe house, often with children in tow and no more than the clothes on their backs, and find safety, security and warmth. They receive counseling, support services and more.
“Clients in the shelter meet in the kitchen several times throughout the day to drink coffee, make meals for their families and to build intimate moments with their children while trying to rebuild their lives,” says Sonia Jimenez, Empower Yolo’s shelter director.
The current safe house, the Wallace and Vannucci Shelter, opened to residents in November of 1999 and since that time over twenty-five hundred women and children have passed through its doors. When the shelter was built, no one could imagine a day when the nine-bedroom, 25bed shelter would be ﬁlled to capacity. By 2014 there was rarely an open bed and the staff often moved residents around and rearranged the furniture to squeeze in “just one more.” In 2015, the agency added two more bedrooms giving the shelter a total of 35 beds. While the bed count rose the size of the kitchen did not. In 2017, 238 women, men and children stayed in our shelter for a total of 10,932 bed nights, preparing over 30,000 meals in the shelter kitchen.
In most homes, the kitchen is a focal point, a place where families begin and end their day, a place to gather around and take in the comforting smells of a favorite meal. Kitchens are a familiar place, even in unfamiliar surroundings.
However, the current kitchen at the shelter is nearly 20 years old and has not been updated since it was built. It does not provide adequate space or storage for the many families using it. The space is cramped, cabinets are worn out and falling down and appliances are old and in constant need of repair.
We hope that you will join Empower Yolo as we kick off our “GATHER Around Our Kitchen” fundraising campaign. Community members, Emily Prieto-Tseregounis and Linda Katehi are leading campaign efforts. “I first heard about Empower Yolo through St. James Church and from colleagues at work. I became interested in getting involved because I know they provide very important services in the community,” says Emily Prieto-Tseregounis. “I told Linda about Empower Yolo and we went and visited the shelter together. We both were impressed with the commitment of Empower Yolo staff and the impact of their work on the well-being of many families in Yolo County,” Prieto-Tseregounis says.
Prieto-Tseregounis and Katehi strongly believe in the importance of rebuilding the shelter kitchen and helping families at this most basic level. “After visiting the emergency shelter it was clear that the facility was in need of a kitchen that would be appropriate for the number of families that are served. It also seemed necessary that a fundraising campaign be developed to raise the funds needed since the project was quite extensive,” Prieto-Tseregounis says.
The finished facility will dramatically improve our ability to support individuals and families who come to us at the most difficult times of their lives. Our residents will know that this is a place that was built with them in mind, a clean and comfortable place to prepare food and share meals with their families providing comfort and healing for all survivors and their children.
With new cooktops and a central island, more sinks and refrigerators, and plenty of pantry space, our new kitchen will offer an at-home atmosphere, with opportunity for in-house community building.
Clients become part of a community of survivors, who share more than the reason that brought them there. “The new kitchen will help create healthy memories for families and newfound friendships at the shelter; this sense of community and support help aid in the healing process,” Jimenez says.
Our dream kitchen will be five kitchens in one—with two ovens, four sinks, five cooktops, and ten refrigerators. The shelter kitchen will have enough space and appliances so that multiple families can cook and eat meals in the kitchen at the same time.
The kitchen is a place where families come back to, or in our case where new families are found. It is a place of nourishment for the body and the soul. Our kitchen should be a place to share a favorite dish, a family tradition, a story or a laugh, and a place to find comfort in food and friends.
“The community can help and get involved by supporting us in this fundraising effort and becoming an ambassador for this campaign,” Prieto-Tseregounis says. Please help us make this inviting kitchen a reality for the families served by Empower Yolo.
Please keep the families Empower Yolo serves and our shelter kitchen in your hearts for the Big Day of Giving on Thursday, May 3rd. We’ve set an ambitious goal to raise $100,000 to jumpstart our shelter kitchen remodel campaign. To learn more and donate on May 3rd go to: https://www.bigdayofgiving.org/organization/empoweryolo.
If you have any questions about Empower Yolo’s “GATHER Around Our Kitchen” campaign please refer to our website at: empoweryolo.org, or contact Natalia Baltazar, the Director of Development and Community Relations at [email protected].
For more information on Empower Yolo go to: www.empoweryolo.org