On Thanksgiving, CityTeam on Sproul Street in Chester, served over 150 holiday dinners fine dining style complete with linen tablecloths, menus and waiter service. The guests weren’t the only ones thankful for the hospitality, which also included a to-go meal and a pie.
For a volunteer and a CityTeam staff member, gratitude was at the top of the menu.
Surrounded by a team of adults receiving instructions on the tray line, it would have been easy for Tavia Isaac to have been a bit intimidated. Preparing a full Thanksgiving meal for her large family could have also been daunting. After all, the Chester resident is only 13 years-old and most of her peers’ culinary skills are at the boxed mac-and-cheese level.
However, in late September Isaac captured the top prize of $10,000 in a cooking competition on Food Network’s “Chopped Junior.” The show, a spin-off of the network’s hit, “Chopped,” has young chefs between the ages of nine and 15 make a dish from items that aren’t revealed until the chefs come out on the set.
“I wanted to help serve the community and the homeless because I know how grateful I am and how blessed I am and just wanted to give back a little bit. When you go out and see a lot of people aren’t as blessed as I am and I just wanted to give back the little that I do have,” commented Isaac.
Isaac, who learned to cook from her mother, grandmother and The Food Network, is used to helping prepare a Thanksgiving meal for “too many to count” and advised using a turkey with a pop-up thermometer and smearing room temperature butter on top of the bird before putting it in the oven.
“Four plates for Chopped Junior judges is not a lot compared to what I’m used to,” she said with a smile.
Isaac was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at eight years-old. Last year, she had her colon removed and her condition has dramatically improved. The disease caused her to make some adjustments to her diet and be aware of the needs of others.
“Tavia has always had a concern for others, even when we are driving down the street. She decided when she was on “Chopped Junior” (that she) wanted to give back,” said her mother, Crystal Isaac, who was volunteering along with other members of her family. “She’s always been a giving a spirit. I think it’s more with kids who have an illness.”
The spirit of giving back is also strong in John Clifford but for different reasons.
Clifford leads the food service team at CityTeam which serves three hot meals a day, seven days a week. On Saturday night they do Hope Café, similar to the Thanksgiving meal, with printed menus, linen tablecloths and waiters with the idea to give guests the best experience they have had all week.
“We have the real opportunity to feed hungry people in our community,” said Clifford minutes before the worship service ended and guests would stream in for the meal of mixed green salad, potato bisque, herb rubbed roasted turkey with sweet potatoes, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. “We have no idea where our guests are going. We want them to have something for tonight or tomorrow morning. It’s one way of showing respect. We love you now and we will love you this afternoon.”
Chefs from Talon Energy Stadium prepared about 90 percent of the food and also partner with CityTeam for the Christmas meal and donate leftover food after soccer matches. About 25 volunteers assisted with serving, bussing, working the tray line and other duties.
“I came in homeless in 2007. I was a junkie. My life was transformed in the beginning process of walking through these doors. They didn’t treat me like a junkie. They treated me like a dad or a businessman. That radical love got my attention,” said Clifford.
“Dignity and respect was shown to me. It wasn’t the meal; it was how the people loved me and treated me. They said, ‘We want to walk life out with you.’ Every time we open our doors to eat, I say ‘wow, that’s me,’ somebody struggling for a meal. That one spark could be the catalyst to transform someone’s life. If you need additional help we are here. If you need someone to cry or pray with you, we are here. If you need food or clothing, we want to be a resource. It means everything for me to wake up in the morning. All I want to do is, reach out and help people who were once like I was: hurt and broken.”