Today is Christmas Eve, and chef Altenor Vaval will wake at dawn to head to the kitchen he runs at 123 Price Street in Germantown, leaving his wife and children for most of the day to cook more than …
Today is Christmas Eve, and chef Altenor Vaval will wake at dawn to head to the kitchen he runs at 123 Price Street in Germantown, leaving his wife and children for most of the day to cook more than 100 meals for those who are hungry and in need.
As the director of food services and executive chef at the nonprofit Face to Face, he does this cooking every Monday, Thursday and Friday, but today is a special day, and he is well aware that there are many locals who would not have a dinner today otherwise. Face to Face has been helping thousands in and around Germantown each year for more than three decades, offering food, legal and social services and a place to get medical or hygienic assistance.
And for the past nine months since the pandemic struck, the need has been tremendous, with hundreds of people coming to the parking lot on Price Street three mornings a week to get basic food needs for themselves and their families.
Today, as the rest of us go about our dining and festivities, the pressing need for basic food will be no different for many. Most of us will sit down to a Christmas Eve dinner, and tomorrow to a celebratory Christmas Day feast, while those who have suffered through the pandemic with few resources, stuck on unemployment that may soon be lapsing or ending, will be carrying home a hot meal Vaval has cooked, as well as a box of produce and dairy items.
“I think our job is to make social justice come to light and at a place like this, they feel human again,” said Vaval, a slight, soft-spoken man who has dedicated seven years to serving the needy at Face to Face. “We can create new possibilities.
“I lot of people lost their jobs and their dignity, but we can be a place of hope,” Vaval said. “I will sit down with my family when I get home at 3 or 4 or 5 o clock. But my priority is to serve [those in need ] the best food they can have as well.”
Instead of waiting in a line, those who come for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day dinners this week will be treated to a coffee station in the parking lot at Face to Face, as well as festive music blaring throughout the morning. They will wait until Vaval brings out the packaged hot meals at noon, and then they will take them home to eat for the holiday.
“We can serve them with dignity,” Vaval said. “We try to make it a nice meal for them and make it a nice Christmas so it doesn’t feel like just any other day.”
Vaval will make turkey wings, sweet potatoes and greens beans with almonds for Christmas Eve. He plans on having barbequed chicken, sliced pineapple ham, mac and cheese, brussels sprouts and German mashed potatoes cooked up on Christmas Day.
But this is what he’s been doing for months since the pandemic hit.
I last checked in with Vaval back in April, when things were in a lockdown. While Face to Face typically serves hot meals in an indoor dining room, Vaval was forced to close the restaurant back in March. The organization gave away meals donated from Wawa and a Philadelphia organization three days a week for months until October, when Vaval was finally able to return to his kitchen and make the hot meals himself. Despite restrictions, the organization was also able to maintain the distribution of boxed dairy and produce items, from eggs to yogurt, ground beef and vegetables.
“We call it Family Day and Market Day,” Vaval said. “Each week, we try to give out 80 to 120 boxes.”
For some, it will be all the groceries they get in a week. For others, it is a chance to bring home healthy food for their children.
For Vaval, it is part of a much greater mission.
“I feel we don’t take poverty seriously in this country,” he said. “We need to unlock our greatness and make everyone feel human.”
If you would like to help Face to Face in its everyday mission, the best way during the current pandemic is by making a monetary donation. The organization is also in need of warm gloves. For more information or to make a donation, go to www.facetofacegermantown.org.