Volunteer chef recognized for feeding 2,000 daily during Sonoma County wildfires

Unable to sleep on the morning of Oct. 9, Jennifer Torrey wondered why so many cars were passing her home.

Turns out, hundreds of people were evacuating from fire-stricken areas.

“Radio broadcasts reports listed urgent needs, calling for volunteers and shelter support,” Torrey said. “I wanted to go to my daughter’s middle school to prepare meals, but it had closed. I called someone I know at SRJC (Santa Rosa Junior College) for suggestions about where to help. I learned they needed volunteers at the Veteran’s Memorial Building near the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.”

When she arrived and mentioned her background, organizers immediately sent her to the kitchen. Torrey’s passion is cooking. She previously trained with chefs at the California Culinary Institute, established her own catering business, conducts cooking classes at Sur La Table, the Finley Center and the Savory Spice Shop, and is a chef for private parties in Fountaingrove.

The shelter at the Veteran’s Building was a flurry of activity. Patients arrived from Sutter Hospital, some with feeding tubes. Others from convalescent centers had special dietary needs, babies needed food pureed and first responders asked for carryout meals.

Only a few people had volunteered to prepare food, but no one with her experience. She quickly organized the kitchen and cooked home-style meals for 2,000 people three times a day while working 16-hour shifts. This pattern continued for nine days until meal demand fell below 500 a day.

Torrey established safe food handling procedures, maintained quality standards and kept the kitchen running smoothly. Food supplies were not an issue. Trucks kept arriving around the clock.

“Our meals were wholesome, hot, and a lot – and came with a cot! One day our wonderful kitchen team received a standing ovation from those we served.”

Patricia McCabe-Price, a SRJC instructor, nominated Torrey for this award. “It was amazing to work under her competent guidance and skill. She put the word out to everyone she knew requesting utensils, cookware, donations and help – and they came. Jennifer deserves recognition for the selfless way she rose to the occasion and went beyond the call of duty just because she saw a need and stepped in to help.”

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