Retirement didn’t slow down Bastion resident Sylvia Magee. Magee, a proud mother of two Air Force veterans, had worked as a cook in the Jefferson and Orleans parish school systems for 38 years before retiring in 2018, but that didn’t mean giving up her love of cooking for people. And that made her a perfect match for Bastion’s resident-driven food plan.
“I never stopped,” Magee says. “Before the program, I was feeding the sick and the homeless under the bridge. When they told me about the program, I thought ‘that’s right up my alley.’”
Bastion’s food program, sponsored by the Bob Woodruff Foundation, kicked off this past June, working off the proverb If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach him how to fish, he eats for a lifetime. One in four veterans have experienced food insecurity, which is the lack of access to healthy and nutritious food, and Bastion’s program provides residents with access to healthy fresh produce and other items and teaches them how to cook with it.
“From the beginning we wanted something sustainable for the residents,” explains Bastion Program Manager Renard Dominique. “We have a food pantry onsite, which is regularly filled with produce from Culture Aid NOLA; we have a chicken coop on the grounds and we’re planting fruit trees. It’s one thing, however, to make this food accessible, and it’s another to show folks how they can make delicious meals with it. That’s where the Bastion chefs come in.
Every other Friday, Magee and her fellow Bastion chef, Shantrise Sykes, a veteran resident and a former cook for the Louisiana National Guard, prepare dinner for the community. The dinners offer New Orleans cuisine like catfish, red beans and rice, fresh salads and other lesser known nutritious dishes like acorn squash casserole, and cooked with less sodium, half the fat and still high in taste. As residents stop by the Purple Heart Room for meal pickup, they can often also get the recipes.
Prior to the recent spike in Covid cases, the chefs were also teaching cooking classes,and Magee hopes to return to that once the pandemic numbers are more manageable. With help from other Bastion residents, the chefs have prepared a number of community-wide holiday dinners, and Magee says that they will be doing something special for Valentines Day.
“We’ll be cooking for the parents that day, so they don’t have to worry about making dinner,” says Magee. “And the kids will be giving out goodie bags to their parents, because you have to have something sweet on Valentine’s Day.”