Food for the Soul

Dec 20, 2023

The Seattle area is a thriving tech hub with lots of people working remotely. Many are young and working out of their apartment or occasionally in a coffee shop. That’s changed work life for a large portion of the population in profound ways. “The thing I miss about office work is just seeing familiar faces every day. Just getting the chatter over the watercooler,” says Elliott Joo, a Companis Worker placed at Seattle’s Saint James’s Cathedral Kitchen. Elliott says volunteering every week helps him fill that gap. 

“I feel like at the beginning of remote work, it was super great. Everyone loved it in terms of the (lack of) commute,” he says. “But once you settle in, and the novelty wears off, you start to realize that some things are missing.” 

As part of his desire to have new experiences and venture outside of his 30-something demographic, Elliott, who works as a software engineer at Instacart, came to Companis with some ideas about how to make volunteering work for him. “I definitely wanted something close to me that I could walk to,” he says, “and something I could do on a regular basis as opposed to one big event.” 

Elliott found Companis by searching online for volunteer opportunities and then knocked on our door and introduced himself to Jennifer Wing, Companis’ Associate Executive Director of Programs. Jennifer matched him with the Cathedral Kitchen where Elliott now chops vegetables and preps food under the direction of the head cook every Wednesday.  

The food prep is for the hearty dinners the Cathedral Kitchen hosts every weekday at 4pm. (They also serve a meal on Sunday morning.) These hot meals are open to anyone with no questions asked, says Mick McHugh, the Director of the Kitchen. “We also give our guests a sack lunch with a fresh, homemade sandwich. Last night, we fed 132 people. By the end of the month, when people’s checks run out, the numbers go up to about 160 a night.” 

Mick McHugh, the director of the Kitchen, started out washing dishes as a volunteer here. 

Mick says he values the volunteers who come in and help make it all happen. “I just started asking musicians if they’d like to practice piano during our mealtime since we have a piano and a stage in this room. So far, we’ve gotten three people take us up on it. And they get a lot of applause!” 

Mick has big bona fides as a restaurateur and bar owner in Seattle. He and his partners started Jake O’Shaughnessy’s on Lower Queen Anne and also opened F.X. McRory’s in Pioneer Square. Now, at the age where most people are scheduling more leisure time, Mick shuttles between the Cathedral Kitchen and Northgate where he serves as a consultant to the 32 Bar & Grill, which overlooks the Starbucks rink where the Kraken practice. (And, yes, he helps feed the hockey team!) “You know,” he says, when asked about his fast-paced schedule, “You gotta keep rolling!” 

“There are a lot of retired people living on Seattle’s First Hill near the cathedral and many of them are bored,” he says. “They want to do something. They may not be able to lift heavy things, for example, but they can share their lives in other ways, including coming here to volunteer.” 

Elliott says he’s by far the youngest volunteer in the kitchen on Wednesdays but he likes it that way. “I enjoy hearing about the experiences of the people I volunteer with. It’s just good to get out of my comfort zone and get out of my bubble.” 

As for volunteering through Companis, Elliott says he’d definitely recommend it to others. “I was personally afraid of committing to something and then realizing it wasn’t for me, and then stopping early and feeling bad about it. So with Companis, you can really take the time to be intentional about what it is you want to do. So that way, you enjoy doing it and continue doing it!”



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