Our Big Kitchen

This post is not about Portable Beta, or finance; however a charity with a unique and effective way of engaging the community is worth writing about.


Our Big Kitchen (OBK) is, to quote from their website:

“a community kitchen designed to help those in need….those who are going through a hard time, those who may need a hand getting started, those who deserve recognition but are seldom thanked….

Enter what could be any commercial kitchen. A large warehouse like space, packed with stainless steel prep benches, commercial mixers, ovens, burners racks and sinks. However, it is not any commercial kitchen. OBK is run as a community venture. Meals are prepared, packaged and distributed to those in the community solely on the basis of need. OBK was the brainchild of Rabbi Dovid Slavin and Laya Slavin. Despite their religious leaning, and the fact that the kitchen is both kosher and halal, the output of OBK is truly “non denominational”. It is distributed to those in need regardless of their faith or circumstance. There is no judgement or prerequisite, other than need.

Other than a single paid employee, all labour at OBK is supplied by volunteers. Volunteers can be anyone. Anyone who has an interest in working in the kitchen, or providing a supporting function, is encouraged to join in. There is room for adults, children – anyone who is prepared to offer their time – is welcomed. While this may be no different many other community kitchens, it is only part of the OBK story.

Along with other activities, OBK hosts events. Typically, a group – which can range from pre-schoolers, to adults – can occupy the kitchen for their event. Volunteers will take this group through a cooking exercise. For the younger ones, it is usually an activity based around creating something sweet and sticky. Older children and adults, will be guided through the process of preparing, cooking, packaging and even distributing a complete meal. The afternoon we were there – my teenage daughters birthday party – followed the latter course. Our group of girls was greeted by Simon – a volunteer – who introduced himself and the kitchen. A short video about OBK was played, then the girls washed their hands and donned disposable aprons and caps. From there on, laughter was a pleasant accompaniment to the usual sounds of a busy kitchen.

Divided into groups, the girls were led through an exercise of preparing a full meal – entree, main course and a dessert. In this instance, a tasty vegetable soup (yes – I tried all the dishes, and they were delicious), a rich curry and apple “bubkas” –  sweet apple filled turnovers – which filled the space with an amazing aroma. Everyone had a huge amount of fun. A real team atmosphere was created, where we all enjoyed working together and doing something meaningful. Everyone left feeling good at having created over 100 meals, and of course, we all got to take home a sample of the dessert.

This type of engagement is quite unique. It is not often that I have seen a group working together with such engagement and unity, while being able to have so much fun (a real life lesson for all corporate team building gurus, and management theorists on high performing teams…). In giving the work a valuable purpose, all agendas, egos, competition and need for individual recognition were put aside. Fun and purpose made the whole experience special. What OBK has achieved is truly amazing. Drawing in the more fortunate members of the community – us – in such a gentle and non judgmental way, is a true eye opener. I imagine more than a few of the participants would ever have dreamed of helping the needy – let alone at a birthday party. After the fact, I doubt there are any who would not repeat the experience. Providing a level of engagement which is both fun and rewarding, achieved real and impressive results. Hopefully some of the party goers will remain engaged as volunteers. We will all retain something good from the experience.

Have a look obk.org.au. There is a lot more to it than what I have written (including turning street kids into baristas, sourcing raw materials and a wish list..).

As a postscript – perhaps it is worth thinking about how the OBK model could be deployed in other areas, or how it should become part of a hybrid model, operating alongside a conventional commercial business.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply