It's around 6 p.m. on a Friday at Lotus House Women's Shelter in Overtown and the dinner bell is ringing. Soon about 50 women of all ages, and some of their children, will gather for a healthy and nutritious meal prepared at cost by local catering company Hearts of Palm, formerly The Corner Muse.
Lotus House Women's Shelter is a residential facility and resource center. They house women that are homeless due to poverty, domestic abuse, release from incarceration, and untreated medical or mental illness. The shelter provides them with food, housing, education and access to resources and information that help them break the cycle of homelessness.
AP photographer Lynne Sladky told me about Lotus House after a shoot she did over there and it got me to thinking about shelter food, so I emailed Constance Collins Margulies, who runs the place, and asked her if I could come by and document dinnertime.
Healthy food in a beautiful and serene environment.
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"I've never had anybody take a picture of me while I'm eating."
Brown rice, veggies and fish piccata.
Resident Operations Manager Lenora (last name withheld by request).
Lotus House emphasizes healthy choices and the food served is a reflection of that. Lenora says "I like the salads & the lamb, it's like a wrap that they serve, I also like the bean salad, fruit, yogurt, and the cereal. All the dishes are good."
Here are a couple of shots of babies post-meal basking in the garden:
The food is cooked fresh at the North Miami headquarters of Hearts Of Palm Catering and driven down to the shelter daily by Mark Scharnitz. He owns the company along with partner Manuel Iraola. They used to have a cafe called The Corner Muse where Constance Margulies liked to eat, and that's where the connection was made that led to their catering relationship. "I'm not charging for manpower. It's all about food cost. I piggyback orders I'm doing for other clients and just make extra. It's like, I'm doin the work anyway, so why wouldn't I help out. I believe in karma. What goes around comes around, and we're happy to do it" says Mark.
The Hearts Of Palm Catering crew.
The daily crew consists of Mark, Chef Sarah Ramos, Sara Leal and her daughter Daniela Leal. Daniela is a 16 year old high school graduate getting ready for college. She says, "I think it's amazing and it's for a noble cause. It feels like you're doing something useful that's gonna affect the lives of others in a positive way, so it's a boost to continue." Her mom agrees and says the food is "Especial, muy especial."
Chef Sarah Ramos is a self made woman. She is a Jersey City transplant who says "Wolfgang Puck's sous chef reached out to me and gave me a passion for food, and this passion for food and helping others equals a very happy life. Sincerely." She came to Miami with nothing and worked her way up in the world.
Hearts of Palm Catering is a close knit and dedicated crew of food service professionals that are happy to put in the extra work necessary to feed the women of Lotus House their three square meals a day.
Daniela Leal, Sara Leal, Mark Scharnitz and Chef Sarah Ramos.