Feeding an Appetite for Volunteering Feeding an Appetite for Volunteering

Feeding an Appetite for Volunteering

Each month, Jeff Bieniek spends about ten hours at Alexandra House sharing his passion for cooking and love of feeding the body and spirit with shelter residents. As a professional chef and kitchen manager, Jeff is busy day in and day out, feeding the employees of BAE Systems in the corporate cafeteria where he hopes for high numbers, getting a chance to nourish more workers. At Alexandra House, he hopes for small numbers when he comes in to slice, sauté, stir, and season the meals he serves. Each plate he serves represents an individual whose life has been forever altered by violence.  He hopes that in serving Alexandra House clients he can bring hope for the future and serve as a role model, showing women and children that have experienced domestic violence that not all men behave violently.

Jeff began volunteering with a group from his church, hosting a Valentine’s Day party for the children residing in the shelter. Jeff recalls that the children were thrilled by the party and inspiring that kind of joy made him want to come back to volunteer on a more regular basis. While the joy on the faces of the children was a powerful motivator to get involved, he was also struck by the opportunity to brighten the day of the adults Alexandra House serves. When his group came in to celebrate Valentine’s Day with the children, Jeff talked to one mom who was new to the shelter and had obviously been hurt badly, with two black eyes. When she saw her child playing happily and engaging with the group of caring, committed adults, Jeff saw a burden lift from her shoulders. Thinking about the struggles that she had experienced was heart-breaking for Jeff but it also called him to action — Jeff knew he needed to do more.

For Jeff, Alexandra House has been an ideal place to volunteer. Not only does he get to use his professional skills, the shelter and administrative staff have always been “warm, open-hearted, and welcoming” which made him “feel right at home.” Additionally, he loves that the shelter residents are friendly and curious about new foods as this gives him the opportunity to share and create both new and familiar dishes.  He also enjoys helping families develop healthy nutrition habits together which can be very difficult in the midst of transition and uncertainty. Recently, one parent came up after a meal where Jeff prepared roasted carrots, reporting that her daughter had “never eaten a carrot before in her life, and she loved those carrots.” Interactions like this make volunteering worth it for Jeff.

The most surprising thing for Jeff when he began volunteering at Alexandra House was learning about the breadth of resources available to clients. To him, this is “so much more than just a place for them to lay their head.” Jeff learned that clients have access to support and advocacy from the time they make their first call to Alexandra House, to their first steps towards a violence free life and beyond.

Although it can be a challenge to go home after work, change clothes and come to Alexandra House, Jeff makes the effort because he knows how important he is to Alexandra House and to the clients. In particular, Jeff believes that more men need to be involved in domestic and sexual violence work because they need to show the world that abuse isn’t okay.

If you’re interested in becoming a kitchen or facilities volunteer, contact Jess Cheney, Alexandra House Community Education Coordinator, via email (jcheney@alexandrahouse.org) or phone (763-795-5452).