I appreciate Angel Smith. She wrote me a few weeks ago and offered to share her experience in showing hospitality to church dinner guests.
If you’ve been following this blog, you know I’m trying to learn more about serving guests with allergies and sensitivities to gluten. It’s a lot more difficult and complicated than I guessed.
Angel already knows this. She cooks dinner for her church’s Wednesday night activities. She shared tips she has learned while serving a child with allergies to soy, nuts, eggs, raw apples and raw cherries.
“In every job I’ve had, I think of every child I work with as my child,” Angel said. “If I had a child with an allergy, I would want them to be treated with the same attention and care.”
Angel’s husband, Tim, is pastor at Oakland United Methodist Church in Galax, Virginia. Angel had these tips for other church cooks:
Ask lots of questions. Angel works closely with the parents of the child she’s cooking for, often texting them with questions or photos of food labels. “I was very unsure in the beginning,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
Always read the labels. Even if you are sure a certain cake mix or hamburger bun was safe for people with soy or nut allergies the last time you checked, read the label before purchasing that same product again, Angel says. “The food company might have changed its ingredients.”
Serve everybody the same thing. Instead of making the person with allergies feel “singled out,” Angel strives to serve everyone the same food. Rather than bake two cakes – one with eggs and one with applesauce as an egg substitute – Angel serves the applesauce cake to all. “Most of them won’t know the difference,” she said.
Wear gloves. It’s very easy to cross-contaminate gluten-free foods. It’s difficult to wash off gluten that clings to your hands so Angel wears plastic gloves, changing them as she handles one food or the other.
I really appreciated my conversation with Angel. We have four gluten-free guests who attend our monthly dinners at Norwood United Methodist Church. This weekend, I felt like we took another step forward in showing them hospitality as we prepared to serve a taco bar. Prior to the dinner, I texted two of the guests to ask which brand of corn tortillas is safe. I sent them photos of the labels on ingredients I planned to add to a big pot of pinto beans.
It’s all worth it if someone leaves the table feeling a little more loved than when they sat down.
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Photo above: A dinner at Oakland United Methodist Church