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Authentic food brings together a multicultural team

The Optage Senior Dining Choices team recently celebrated Cinco de Mayo.
The Optage Senior Dining Choices team recently celebrated Cinco de Mayo.

We recognize God’s blessing in the rich cultural diversity within our staff at Presbyterian Homes & Services (PHS). A special thanks to Optage Senior Dining Choices for giving us a peek inside their monthly cultural learning experiences.

Not only are they learning about one another and the cultures they represent, but they’re also celebrating — with delicious, authentic food, of course!

But when they’re not feasting, you’re sure to find them hard at work.

Nearly 2 million ‘made from scratch’ meals for older adults each year

Optage is the home and community services division of PHS. Each year, Optage Senior Dining Choices serves nearly 2 million meals, mostly to seniors with low income, in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro.

Their quantity is matched by superior quality. Lisa Ekiyor, Nutrition and Culinary Director, notes, “The food prepared here is from scratch. You don’t find that very often.” She adds, “That’s why I feel like we have a nice, quality product with a lot of integrity.”

‘How can we come together as a team and keep up morale?’

In early 2021, when racial tensions were mounting across the state and nation, Lisa felt concerned. She got to thinking, “How can we come together as a team and keep up morale?” and then realized, “What better way than food?”

That’s how the monthly feasting began, and it would make anyone’s mouth water.

African, Black American, Hmong, Karen, Burmese, Lao, Filipino, Iraqi, Mexican, Ecuadorian and Italian cultures are among many coming to the table to celebrate!
Ricky Saltos, Gabriel Guzman and Vidal Cruz Hernandez
(From left) Ricky Saltos (Ecuador), Gabriel Guzman and Vidal Cruz Hernandez (Mexico) prepared an authentic meal on Cinco de Mayo (May 5).


Cinco de Mayo celebration

Recently on Cinco de Mayo, May 5, an elegant menu advertised: Mole de pollo (Chicken Mole), Beef Turnovers, Rajas, Mexican Rice, Enchiladas, Tamales and, for choice of dessert, Grilled Pineapple with whipped cream or Flan … or both for those with a hearty appetite! 😊

“It’s all about showcasing them,” says Lisa, “and what makes them happy.”

Marie Gaspardo, Director of Home Delivered Meals and Transportation, reflects, “It’s amazing how the different groups have shown such a huge, vested interest.”

They come wearing traditional clothing and speak about their home countries. Artifacts from home are displayed next to bulletin boards with eye-catching photos and facts.

‘Unity always wins’

This year’s Cinco de Mayo celebration was meaningful to Chef Vidal Cruz Hernandez from Mexico. He says, “Although Cinco de Mayo celebrates a big victory for the Mexican army, for me it’s more about reunion and family. We share our culture so others can get to know a little more about the food, our traditions and language.”

Vidal continues, “When the Mexican army fought against the French army, they were considered a weak and small army. However, the Mexican army triumphed over the French army because they were brave and unified. Unity always wins. And I think it’s important to showcase that unity, because nowadays it’s what this country [the U.S.] needs most.”

“We Will” is a series that spotlights inspiring examples of teamwork at PHS. With God’s blessing, We Will work together to build a better, brighter future for the older adults we serve.

Do you know someone looking for more purpose in their work? Share the good news and the many opportunities to join our team at Rated #1 employer in Minnesota by Forbes!

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