A pot of turkey and tomatoes, stewed with turmeric, needs stirring. The plantains are prepped, along with fish spiced with garlic and ginger. At Preble Street, a social service agency in Portland, Maine, fans meant to cool the kitchen’s heat amplify the aroma.
On a recent afternoon, a handful of volunteers cooked 600 meals to be served at a local sports arena. Lined with cots instead of bleachers, the Portland Expo Center became an emergency shelter in June for the sudden arrival of Central African asylum-seekers. The ethnic food is meant to replace fear of the unknown with the comfort of familiar flavors. Fufu, a starchy staple, is a favorite.
Several meal prep volunteers are asylum-seekers themselves. They slip in and out of French, Portuguese, and Lingala with the ease of changing aprons. Some have already found temporary housing. Yet day after day, they keep turning up to cook for fellow newcomers.