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News / Health / Clark County Health

Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle hosts class on properly cooking, serving food for homeless people

Mayor pays for supplies out of own pocket, gives participants $10 to get food handler cards

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: May 2, 2024, 6:05am
4 Photos
Leah Perkel, from left, puts a serving spoon into a dish while Monica Zazueta prepares a plate. They attended Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle&rsquo;s Wednesday workshop that taught people how to safely serve food to homeless people. Participants brought recipes that work for large groups.
Leah Perkel, from left, puts a serving spoon into a dish while Monica Zazueta prepares a plate. They attended Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle’s Wednesday workshop that taught people how to safely serve food to homeless people. Participants brought recipes that work for large groups. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

When someone asked Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle if it was true you could only serve food to homeless people from a commercial kitchen, she knew she had to do something.

She brainstormed with Clark County Public Health and decided to host an educational workshop to teach people how to safely distribute and serve food with the resources they already have.

At first, she didn’t know how many people would show up. On Wednesday, people interested in serving food to their homeless neighbors packed a room at City Hall.

McEnerny-Ogle was so driven to host the event, she paid for supplies out of her own pocket, including oven mitts, digital thermometers and gloves. She passed out $10 to participants to pay for their food handler cards.

“People are hungry to make a difference. People want to learn, understand, and they want to know how they can help,” McEnerny-Ogle said.

Food safety

Public Health staffers made it clear to those in the room the agency had no intention of stopping them from preparing food in their residential kitchens for homeless people. Rather, they want to make sure people are mindful of food safety as they cook meals, because homeless people are often more susceptible to contracting illness from unsafe food.

“People who are food insecure and unhoused are more likely to get sick from food. If and when they do get sick, they’re more likely to have more severe symptoms … and they may not have access to medical care,” said Brigette Holland, program manager for Clark County Public Health’s Food Safety program.

She offered guidelines for home cooks to prepare food safely:

  • Hot foods must be cooked to reach 165 degrees and then kept above 135 degrees. Cold foods must be kept below 41 degrees.
  • Wash your hands frequently when cooking and distributing food. Avoid touching such ready-to-eat food as salads, breads and fresh vegetables with bare hands and instead use gloves or utensils.
  • Avoid mixing raw meat and cooked foods. Wash and sanitize surfaces that touch raw animal products.
  • Don’t let food sit out for more than two hours. Cook food the day it will be served. Cooked food left out for more than four hours should be thrown away, Holland said.
  • Quickly cool hot foods that won’t immediately be served. Food must cool from 135 degrees to 70 degrees within two hours, and then cool from 70 to 41 degrees in the subsequent four hours, according to Public Health. Food that fails to properly cool in these time frames must be discarded.

Tips, recipes

Those attending the meeting also shared tips with one another. To keep items cool, some participants recommend freezing a Ziploc bag of water on a flat sheet. Then the bag can be layered between foods in a cooler. To keep items hot for short periods, people recommended insulated boxes or Dutch ovens.

The event included a potluck. Participants brought in their favorite casseroles, salads, pasta and other dishes.

Karen Rankine, a Vancouver resident, attended the event because she would like to donate food to the Safe Stay shelter she lives near. McEnerny-Ogle is part of her neighborhood association, too, and Rankine plans to ask the group if other members would also like to donate food.

Rankine said the most impressive thing she learned from the event was how many people and agencies are working together to address the need in Clark County.

McEnerny-Ogle echoed this. She plans to hold another workshop later this year.

“We don’t have enough commercial kitchens nor do we have enough people or food to donate to 500 people — yet, that is exactly what happens in Clark County. People make it happen and are making food for hundreds weekly,” McEnerny-Ogle said. “It just warms my heart that people want to do this safely.”

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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