Cooking up a better life

A family peacefully sitting down to a meal together. It seems like a such a simple thing. But in homes fractured by domestic violence, there is no peace, nothing is simple.

One out of every four women in this country will be a victim of domestic violence – abused by those who claimed to love them – during their lifetimes. That statistic doesn’t count the children who witness the abuse and whose lives are shattered.

What can food and cooking do about this? A lot, it turns out.

I was a guest at a luncheon recently for Interact of Wake County, where members of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association heard about part of the agency’s ambitious goals to help families get free and stay free from abuse. Part of Interact’s plans for its new 61,000-square-foot headquarters include culinary job training for clients.

The building they’re taking over is the old YWCA. Those who have been around Raleigh a while will remember the Grecian Corner restaurant that operated out of part of the building. (My husband and I had quite a memorable dinner there one evening, which included a performance by a belly dancer who accidentally popped off her top.) So, a professional kitchen was already there, but it needed massive renovation. Instead of turning it into a facility solely to provide meals for clients and shelter residents, Interact contacted the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle to make it something more. The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle has operated a culinary job training program for some time, and agreed to bring its curriculum to Interact. One of many issues that victims of domestic violence often face is a lack of job skills, and financial need is a big reason women return to abusive relationships. Providing job training is huge. And those who complete the training will have certification to work in the growing Triangle restaurant industry.

Of course, it comes down to getting the money – for this kitchen redo, $102,000. Golden Corral stepped in to take the lead, and offered money to match donations. At the luncheon, Interact received a check from Ronald McDonald House Charities of N.C., plus another $1,000 was raised on the spot.

I’ve been a volunteer for Interact for more than 10 years. I’ve talked to women who arrived with bruises and left with hope. I’ve talked to women who desperately needed somewhere to flee the danger they were in, and had to tell them there was no space at the shelter. Mostly, though, I see how the human spirit can soar above any difficulty, with a little help.

The new facility Interact is planning, which is set to open in October, will be unlike anything else in the country in providing total services for victims of domestic violence and their families. Naturally, I’m most excited about the kitchen – it’s an example of what I’ve always said, that food does so much more than feed our bodies. Read more about the project here, and consider opening your checkbook. And the next time you sit down to dinner, surrounded by your loved ones, think about how lucky you are.


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