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Vallie Gilley is chef and executive director of One Kitchen Collaborative. Courtesy photo
Columns Soul on Fire

Cooking for others as love made visible

Tolstoy said that “serving humanity is the sole meaning of life.” Another famous quote by Kahlil Gibran states, “Work is love made visible.”

One Kitchen Collaborative (OKC) is what you get if you combine those two ideas with cooking from the heart.

The magical ingredient is the love added by Vallie Gilley as the heart-centered, sustainably conscious chef and executive director of OKC at the helm of this tremendous effort. She personifies cooking as love made visible, and serving humanity is her ethos. Her soul is on fire, and she’s spearheading a movement that makes a difference in thousands of lives daily.

“Everything revolves around food in my household and my family. If I am going to show you love, I will cook you something, or I’m going to bake you something. Food is my love language,” Gilley says.

Having owned a juice bar in the ’80s and running the successful Jitters coffee shop in north Oceanside for decades, Vallie jumped on the opportunity to bid on running the green kitchen the City of Oceanside was opening at the new El Corazon Center. “I’ve been using sustainable kitchen practices since I started in the food industry, and it’s how I live at home as a longtime vegetarian.”

A perfect pairing was born.

“People are going hungry while there is so much food waste in the world, and I want to impact and change that with the same passion that drives us to be more aware, mindful, and in service. We can minimize the waste by diverting it from the landfills and educating others while creating delicious, gourmet meals out of what otherwise would have been trash.”

One Kitchen Collaborative held its Harvest Moon fundraiser on Nov. 5 in Oceanside. Courtesy photo

The City of Oceanside has also been committed to zero waste. It is one of the only cities dedicated to fostering sustainable practices while recognizing businesses and citizens that reduce their carbon footprint. Gilley’s impact with conscious catering is starting to inspire other cities outside of Oceanside to implement a multi-pronged approach to embrace green initiatives and share this valuable strategy that has grown from the collaboration.

Once dubbed the O’side Kitchen Collaborative, the One Kitchen Collaborative was born as partnerships were developing that are inspiring other communities. “I want to continue growing this effort, educating others, and moving into other municipalities. We really are one.”

A recent recipient of District Woman of the Year honors and the Visit Oceanside’s Industry Partner award, this fourth-generation Oceanside business leader combines her philanthropic work with her nonprofit foundation, Feeding the Soul Foundation (501c3), with the OKC. She brings local businesses, chefs and musicians together to create impactful fundraising events that highlight the culinary principles of zero waste to the forefront of this movement and help some of the most deserving to benefit in extraordinary ways. “Music and food bring people together — it’s a language everyone understands.”

Several local markets, such as Cream of the Crop and Jimbo’s, along with Mraz and Mellano farms and huge distributors, such as US Foods, provide their surplus goods to the OKC kitchen, to name only a few. Local farmers also work with gleaners such as Produce Good, who gather excess from neighborhood trees, gardens and farmer’s markets. This valuable product, which would usually go to waste, is then delivered to the OKC kitchen. In turn, the group of volunteers, under Gilley’s direction, have provided over 750,000 meals for people in all circumstances.

Vallie’s foundation chooses a worthy cause doing good for others each month.

Feeding the Soul and OKC is currently fundraising for Coffee for Humanity Showers, a nonprofit offering mobile showers and clothes washing for those in need throughout North County. Providing food and coffee for workers and volunteers in the community also supports the ongoing work of uplifting the dignity of others by providing basic necessities.

They are also raising money to outfit their food truck and trailer so they can show up in as many places as needed: senior centers, schools, front-line disasters and local emergencies.

This holiday season, people wanting to get involved are encouraged to donate a holiday meal for one to four families, purchase coffee, provide any in-kind goods or services and sign up to volunteer. If you would like to support Feeding the Soul Foundation and OKC to help reduce food waste and address food insecurity in our communities, and want more information, check out this fantastic soulful organization at www.theokc.org and see what programs, events and workshops are available.

To end with another fitting quote, Margaret Mead wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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