Friday, January 28, 2011

Spotlight: Juanita Rivera

Cruisin': Juanita Rivera delivers food on her sweet ride

Mayor Mike McGinn calls her “Ms. South Park.” Providence Regina house manager Paige Collins says she’s “family to everyone here.” But it’s not just observers who notice her passion; Juanita Rivera says it herself: “ I just love South Park.”*

            That love? It shows. A 20-year South Park resident, Rivera’s most recent bout of service has been in the kitchen at the Providence Regina house—where produce from Lettuce Link’s Marra Farm giving garden is distributed to food bank clients.  As an employee of the seniors’ meal program, she fixes complete dinners on Monday and Friday evenings for limited-income seniors from South Park and surrounding communities.  The rest of her kitchen time, however, is purely volunteered.   Every weekday morning, she cooks breakfast for anyone that shows up, and that's no small task.  She also prepares a full morning meal for the twenty-or-so volunteers that help with Saturday distribution at the food bank. This author is especially partial to her thick slabs of French toast—crispy round the edges, gooey in the center, heavy in the belly. 

            Rivera attributes her ability in the kitchen to inheritance.  “It’s a family thing,” she says.  Her father owned several Mexican restaurants in eastern Washington, where she grew up.   True to these culinary roots, her favorite items from Marra Farm are the tomatoes & cilantro, which she turns into pico de gallo & other salsas. Frankly, though, she’ll fix just about anything, and like all great cooks, Rivera clearly derives the most pleasure from her clients' faces as they ooooh and aaaaah over her meals.

            Last year, Rivera won the Molina Healthcare Award for outstanding service at Providence Regina house.  But even when she’s away from the kitchen, she’s out doing good work.  Watch out for Rivera on her funky Schwinn cruiser (pictured above).  She fills her basket with sandwiches and wheels around the area to deliver these to the homeless and to industrial workers who struggle to afford a midday meal.  This unyielding commitment to nourishing and strengthening her community is perhaps Rivera’s most defining trait.  When asked what she’s do with a million dollars, she responded, “I’d open up a boarding house for the homeless, and then help out the food bank.” 

            South Park loves you right back, Juanita.

*The only rival for Juanita’s affections? Talk show host Ellen Degeneres, though Rivera says that her primary motivation for getting on Ellen’s show is to get more funding for South Park.  

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