WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama visited Miriam's Kitchen on Thursday, dishing out food, touting healthy eating, and volunteering at a city soup kitchen. It was a triple play merge of issues in Mrs. Obama's issues playbook.
We know that Mrs. Obama has an immediate influence on fashion (her sleeveless outfits) body image (toned arms) and hair (straight, styled and misted.) How hard or easy will it be for her to use her bully pulpit to influence what we eat?
"That's why I want to urge people who are listening that if you have an opportunity, to come by -- not just this soup kitchen but any soup kitchen in your community. And helping is an easy thing to do," Mrs. Obama said.
"Collect some fruits and vegetables. Bring by some good healthy food. You know, we want to make sure that our guests here and across this country are eating nutritious items. Today we had fresh risotto with mushrooms. We had broccoli. We had fresh baked muffins with carrots in it."
POOL REPORT AFTER TRANSCRIPT
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release March 5, 2009
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
AT A MIRIAM'S KITCHEN EVENT
12:34 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, guys. Thanks so much. I am not going to talk long. My purpose here was to listen, learn and to scoop some risotto. (Laughter.) And hopefully everybody was satisfied with my scoops. (Laughter.) Can I hear something for my scoops? (Laughter and applause.)
I just want to --
Q -- seconds! (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: I just want to reiterate what Scott said. We are facing some tough times in this country, and there is a moment in time when each and every one of us needs a helping hand. Miriam's Kitchen has become a place where so many people have been able to find that helping hand, and we have to -- I want to, on behalf of the White House and the administration, thank the staff and the volunteers of the Miriam Kitchen for their focused work over the past 26 years, providing a home for their guests; folks who represent all of the best that this country has to offer. Their work here has meant the world to so many, and it is an example of what we can do as a country and as a community to help folks when they're down.
That's why I want to urge people who are listening that if you have an opportunity, to come by -- not just this soup kitchen but any soup kitchen in your community. And helping is an easy thing to do. Collect some fruits and vegetables. Bring by some good healthy food. You know, we want to make sure that our guests here and across this country are eating nutritious items. Today we had fresh risotto with mushrooms. We had broccoli. We had fresh baked muffins with carrots in it.
And my understanding is that this facility is able to provide that kind of meal for about $1.50. And that's an incredible thing to remember: that we can provide this kind of healthy food for communities across this country, and we can do it by each of us lending a hand. So we did it at the White House, and we're urging people around the country to do it in their communities.
And if you don't have items that you can donate, then you have yourself. Back in the kitchen I served food with six or seven volunteers who were here pouring their blood, sweat and tears into preparing the food and serving it. There are people all across the country even in these times who can lend a hand and volunteer at a soup kitchen, even if they don't have the resources to donate.
So we're all going to need one another in these times. We're going to need to keep lifting each other up in prayer and in hope. This has been an honor for me to be with all of you. We're going to continue to be a part of Miriam's Kitchen and other facilities just like this across the country. And we urge everyone within listening ear, within the sound of my voice, to think about ways they can become involved, too.
So again I want to thank you all. Enjoy your lunch, and we'll see you soon. Thanks so much. (Applause.)
END 12:37 P.M. EST
March 5, 2009
Michele Obama highlighted the role that soup kitchens play in tough economic times with a visit to Miriam's Kitchen, seven blocks from the White House complex.
In brief remarks after serving lunch to about 50 homeless men and women, Mrs. Obama made a pitch for others to follow her example and contribute to similar efforts around the country.
The visit was part of a campaign by Mrs. Obama to connect with the city of Washington and bring wider attention to best practices by local organizations, according to her office.
Miriam's Kitchen is located in a basement under Western Presbyterian Church in Foggy Bottom and is highly regarded for its work with homeless people over the past 26 years. Breakfast is served every day to between 200 and 250 people, mainly men, according to Sara Gibson, director of development for the privately funded organization, which has more than 1,200 volunteers and depends on in-kind contributions to keep costs down (the cost of an average meal is $1.50).
The homeless clients--referred to as "guests" by staff and volunteers "because it's all about dignity," said Gibson--have been homeless for an average of 4.75 years each. Gibson said she was not aware of previous visits by a president or presidential spouse, but said that Karen Hughes, a senior aide to President George W. Bush, had volunteered there.
Mrs. Obama's visit was not announced in advance, although Miriam's Kitchen usually serves its only lunch meal of the week on Wednesdays.
"We're really just thrilled that our new neighbors took notice of what we're doing," said Gibson.
The First Lady's office arranged a White House-wide food drive that yielded almost eight cases of fresh fruit, delivered Wednesday evening, which should be enough to provide fruit for almost two weeks of meals, according to executive director Scott Schenkelberg, who introduced Mrs. Obama.
Before delivering her remarks, without notes or text, Mrs. Obama scooped up Mushroom Risotto cooked in chicken stock from a steam table in the kitchen. Also on the daily menu, posted on the wall, was "Fruit Salad, Courtesy of the White House Fruit Drive." She wore a purple apron and stood alongside several volunteers who added steamed broccoli, apple-carrot muffins and whole wheat rolls to the lunch trays.
The men and women lining up for the food seemed genuinely delighted by her presence and made small talk with Mrs. Obama as she dished out food for almost 15 minutes.
There was a White House steno present, so presumably a transcript is available of her remarks to the roughly 80 volunteers and guests.
Mrs. Obama said that her main purpose in coming had been "to listen and learn and scoop some risotto." She went on to say that "we are facing tough times in this country" and that it is particularly important to help those who may find themselves without a place to live.
The work at Miriam's Kitchen "is an example of what we can do, as a country and as a community, to help folks when they're down," Mrs. Obama said. "We're all going to need one another in these times. We're going to need to keep lifting each other up, in prayer and in hope."
Apparently referring to herself, she added: "We're going to continue to be a part of Miriam's Kitchen, and other facilities just like this across the country, and we urge everyone listening . . . to think about ways they can become involved, too."
For the next 10 minutes, she shook hands with many of those in the room, who lined up to have a word with her.
Wheelchair-bound Pierre D. Carter, 61, who sported a well-worn Obama cap (which he said he started wearing well before the election), clasped her hand and thanked her. "God bless you," he said. "I guarantee you four more years."
In an interview, Carter said Mrs. Obama's visit was a surprise to him. He said he'd been coming to Miriam's Kitchen for breakfast on a daily basis for the past three or four months from a homeless shelter in northeast Washington.
Because of the recession, homelessness "is getting worse and there's more people coming in here every day," he said. "You come in here and you feel like a person again."