Interview with Don Storch, recipient of the 2017 ELCIC In Mission for Others Leadership Award

As part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s (ELCIC) commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a Leadership Award was introduced at the 2017 National Convention. Don Storch was selected to be the first recipient of the award which is presented to individuals committed to advancing the mission and ministry of the ELCIC, and demonstrating Leadership In Mission for Others.

In this interview, Storch shares his reflections on the award and also speaks about his current involvement at the Shelbourne Community Kitchen, located on Vancouver Island, B.C.

The leadership award was presented to you at National Convention in July. How do you feel now that you have had a few months to reflect on this award?

It still is very humbling, and I have continued to get emails and letters from people across the country that I have known from over the years. The major tie in for me is with the Shelbourne Community Kitchen, as there was a cash contribution made in recognition of the award to the kitchen. But as I said, it has been a very humbling feeling and I’m just very pleased.

Can you share a little bit about the ministry at Shelbourne Community Kitchen?

The kitchen is located in Saanich, on the island. It is open Tuesday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. for people to come in, access the food bank, or to ask for some assistance. During those hours and beyond those hours there are lots and lots of cooking classes. When I was there yesterday there was a group of six people learning how to make dumplings. The youngest in the group was about eight years old, while the oldest would have been probably mid-fifties.

How did you first get involved with this program?

Back in 2012, we had a pastoral intern and for a project, the Lutheran Church of the Cross, Victoria, B.C. was running a food pantry and providing cash to individuals who came to the door. St. Luke’s Anglican across the street was doing a similar thing, as was St. Aidan’s United – which is about three blocks away. The intern wondered if there was a way that these three groups could work together.

Through her initiative and the original organizer and chair, Laura Cochrane, meetings began and we decided to work together to develop a kitchen. My interest was that I thought it was a great idea. I helped edit some of the paperwork in the background, and provided support. I just thought that it was a marvelous idea working together and it would really help out more than just providing food or cash but actually teaching program participants how to cook. I also liked the idea of having the kitchen in a house close to the bus route, making it easy for people to get to.

How has the community at the kitchen grown since it first started?

One of the good stories from the kitchen is how the canisters in the kitchen initially had the words ‘sugar’, ‘flower’, and ‘salt’ written on them. After a while, we began to tackle some international cooking and a group of Syrian people were coming in, so had to figure out what ‘flour’ was in Syrian. So now on the canisters ‘flour’ is written in three languages: English, Syrian and Mandarin. It has certainly been quite a great learning experience just to get to know some of the 455 or-so people are that come to our door regularly.

How do all the volunteers, instructors, and teachers work together to make this function?

Kim Cummins is the hired coordinator and she is a marvelous teacher. She is a trained chef, she loves gardening, and is a very easy to relate to person. She is in charge overall, but there are lots and lots of independent cooking courses and other teachers or chefs that come in. Remember, it’s just an ordinary house, so it’s only 6-8 people per class. In 2016 there were 104 cooking classes in all. If you go to the house, the backyard is almost a huge garden. There is a big deer fence all around it so the veggies go to the people and not the animals!

Walking down the street, would anything about this place jump out, or is it just another house on the street?

It’s just another house on the street. There is a little sandwich board on the front with a sign saying “Welcome to the Shelbourne Community Kitchen”. Other than that, there is a sign in the window signifying if it is open or closed, but if you walk down the street you wouldn’t have any idea.

Can you touch on the importance of giving back to the community?

I grew up in a rural area in an Alberta farming community, and people needed each other to survive. This was before Medicare. So I can remember fundraisers to provide money so that someone could get the kind of operation or medical care that they needed; it was just what you did as a part of the community. Church was also a large part of the community. Churches served as community centres – all kinds of things happened there. For me it is just a way of life. In a rural area, you knew all of your neighbours. That doesn’t always happen in urban areas, so we need to find ways in these urban areas to build community. How can we connect? How do we find a sense of place, and a place where we can say, “I can help you, can you help me, how can we work on something together?” Shelbourne is a place where that happens.