Praise for Our Big Kitchen in Parliament

November 24, 2011 by J-Wire Staff
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Marie Ficarra, a Member of the NSW Legislative Assembly and Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier reported  to Parliament on a recent visit to Bondi’s Our Big Kitchen.

Marie Ficarra cooking at Our Big Kitchen

The following is a verbatim report from Hansard:

The Hon. MARIE FICARRA (Parliamentary Secretary) [3.29 p.m.]: I acknowledge the visionary community project based in Bondi at the Haibad Yeshiva Centre, namely Our Big Kitchen, and in particular its driving force, Rabbi Dovid Slavin and his dedicated and delightful wife, Layla. Layla’s passion for helping those in need by linking food and compassion led Rabbi Slavin to establish Our Big Kitchen in 2006. Even though Layla and Rabbi Slavin have seven children from teens to toddlers, the will of this dynamic and loving couple to help others has not diminished.

Our Big Kitchen is a community kitchen designed to help people in need—those who are going through a hard time, for whatever reason. It assists people who may need a hand getting back into community, family or business life, and those who deserve recognition but are seldom thanked. The greatest joy for the volunteers at Our Big Kitchen is in watching people whom they have helped return to help others in need. With boundless energy, Rabbi Slavin and so many volunteer tradespersons, transformed a gloomy cave below the Bondi synagogue into a gleaming 300 square metre wonder.

Our Big Kitchen is compliant with all regulations and incorporates the latest in food technology, including a donation of several state-of-the-art food preparation machines from an Artarmon firm, Robot-Coupe Australia. All equipment, materials and services have been lovingly donated—the utensil drawers, the bags of flour, the maintenance of the building, the industrial-sized freezer and the daily produce donations. These donations have allowed the kitchen to grow and respond to community needs. Each week Our Big Kitchen welcomes around 250 people into their kitchen. Food is made in vast amounts and supplied to those in need.

Our Big Kitchen is used by people from all walks of life. Food becomes the common denominator—it erases any social divide. Aid is extended to all—new migrants, cancer patients, mothers suffering from post-natal depression, bushfire victims and families who are dealing with the death of a loved one. Our Big Kitchen is helping people deal with social isolation, teaching people self-sufficiency, and teaching children about nutrition and the fun of cooking. Our Big Kitchen even has a much-utilised lending library, which includes children’s dress-up costumes and decorations for social events, such as weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and bar mitzvahs.

What makes Our Big Kitchen unique is the sense of community that has formed amongst complete strangers since it was established. A group of senior-aged women come into the kitchen on a weekly basis; a group of schoolboys are completing community service hours as a result of drug-related school suspensions; and men and women work out their community service court obligations—Our Big Kitchen fosters an opportunity for everyone. Other activities Our Big Kitchen conducts are: seniors cooking groups; a Mums ‘n Bubs group; a kids school holiday program; communal cook-ins; a school education program; cooking therapy for the disabled; school Parents and Friends fundraisers; Kids in the Kitchen; kids’ birthday parties with a difference; baking friends; singles cooking evenings; cooking demonstrations; team building and corporate events; catering and commercial food preparation; and assistance for individuals and caterers who need assistance in starting up a business.

I want to specially mention a wonderful program that was so successful that it is now a regular event. The program brings groups of years 5 and 6 Jewish and Muslim school children together to work side by side for a day of cooking and discussion about social and community issues. Thirty children come from each of the Jewish Mount Sinai College, Maroubra and the Muslim Arkana College, Kingsgrove. As Rabbi Slavin says:

It is very important to not treat the persons we help as victims. This is a down-payment on all who we assist. There is an expectation that they will survive and get their lives back on track. The more people we help, the more we get out of it.

When I first visited Our Big Kitchen recently and met the Slavins, I felt uplifted and inspired and my faith in humanity was strengthened. I commend Layla and Rabbi Dovid Slavin for their respectful humanitarian work. I conclude with a statement from Rabbi Slavin:

Everyone who comes in here will go home and see another world.

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