Beth looked around the kitchen with pride. The storeroom was clean, organized and fully stocked. The kitchen sparkled and sported a new freezer. A work table, converted to a desk, contained grocery specials, menu plans and expense reports. Hard to believe that only three weeks had passed since she had become the Redemption House Cook.
A trip to the food warehouse had helped expand her limited budget. Many baking and canned goods were regularly available. Cheese and other surplus items were not as reliable, but all could be used to ease the tight budget. Staff were courteous, but surprised. It had been almost two years since Redemption House had used their services for more than a few items. But they were encouraging when they learned her intentions. She was delighted to learn that delivery was available for non-profit groups.
The canned meats available through the warehouse were useful for casseroles or sandwiches, but Beth had no desire to serve canned meat at every meal. On her third trip to the grocery store, she asked to speak with Calvin Kaufman, the meat manager. Some larger meat packages had lower prices. She hoped that discount would be increased, if she purchased substantially more than those packages held. Calvin told her that wasn’t possible, but suggested meats nearing the end of their shelf life. Prices on these were dramatically slashed. The meat should be used with 48 hours or be frozen, but the quality was as good as the higher priced packages. Although availability couldn’t be predicted, mark downs were made each morning. If she checked with him before 9am, she could pick before they were made public.
She developed a flexible menu. When she found good markdowns, the meat was used for the following day’s dinner. When none were available, she used the canned meats provided by the warehouse. Cal also told her about a nearby farmer’s market. Fruits, eggs and vegetables could be purchased there at prices significantly lower than the store’s. Beth wondered if the store would approve of Cal’s suggestion, but hurried to check it out. Not only were the prices good, but they were decreased again at the end of each day. Bruised or very ripe items were sold for next to nothing. If she purchased other items, they were frequently added at no cost.
“How I wish I had a cart”, she’d moaned to Cassandra, as they lugged their finds back to the house.
“I could take advantage of a lot more if I had a way to transport it. And I’ve had dreams about a freezer.”
“What would you do with a freezer?”
“Freeze meat specials. Make extra dinner portions and freeze them for another night. Do our baking in larger quantities. That would save so much time.”
Beth realized her error when Cassandra pushed a cart into the kitchen the next day.
“Pastor Bob found a little extra money.”
More than a little, it seemed. At the end of the week, an upright freezer was delivered. The rolling cart was removed from the storage room and the freezer took it’s place. The cart now resided in the dining area and served as a coffee station. Residents loved the opportunity for a second cup of steaming coffee. Beth left it up after breakfast and began to add freshly baked pastries around mid-morning. Beth wondered if Pastor Bob would protest, but she had no need to worry. Minutes after the pastries appeared next to the coffee, so did Pastor Bob. Although Lord’s Servant Margaret had nothing complimentary to say, she was also a frequent visitor.
A voice jolted Beth back to the present.
“Wake up, girl. I’ve fixed us some drinks and a plate of Judith’s cookies. Let’s relax for a bit.”
Beth smiled and followed Cassandra to her small sitting room, where they settled into the comfy chairs.
“Her cookies are almost as good as yours.”
“Judith has really come a long way. I was happy to have anyone who could help, but a bit disappointed when I learned she’d never done any cooking. She certainly has talent. Did you know she made the bread today?”
“Wow. Of course, she’ll never have potato peeling talent like mine.”
“I’m thrilled that you do so much of the prep work, Cassandra. You’ve saved me a lot of time. That’s not really part of supervising us. I’m sure that you and Judith will be a big help to our next cook.”
“Next cook? What are you talkin’ about, girl?”
“My month is up in a couple of days. I’ll be looking for a real job. Wish I could keep these quarters though. It’s been great having my own private place.”
“Don’t worry about leaving it. Pastor Bob isn’t going to let you go. Have you said anything about this to him?”
“No, but he must know. I’m only supposed to work here for my first month.”
“Things change. I’ve been here over a year now and I’ve never worked outside. Pastor Bob talked to the parole office and they were happy to let me work here. I don’t have any skills and went down for some money troubles. That rules out a lot of jobs. I get my room and meals, Redemption House pays my parole fee and I get $100 spending money each month. I have a lot of freedom and all I really have to do is keep Pastor Bob happy.”
“But what will you do when you have to leave?”
“You know what will happen, Beth. We’ve both seen women who rotate from outside to prison. I’ll be back there within weeks of leaving here. And I’m okay with that. Not as much freedom, but there’s a bed to sleep in and three meals a day. No boyfriend beating me or spending the rent money on drugs. I’ll do a little time and soon I’ll be back here for another two years.”
“You could have so much more, Cassandra.”
“Nothing in my life has convinced me of that. I know you want more Beth and I hope that you get it. But I don’t think that Pastor Bob is going to let you go.”
“I do want more, Cassandra. I want to live an unsupervised life. I want a home, a career and someday, a family. None of that will happen while I’m cooking here. Anyway, I don’t think he can stop me.”
“He can tell parole that you’re not ready for outside employment. Or plant some drugs in your quarters. Then find them and have your parole revoked.”
“I’ve never done drugs.”
“Who do you think parole will believe?”
“But I can’t stay here, Cassandra. I’ve got to find a way out.”
“I hope you find it. But be careful of Pastor Bob. He can be very vindictive. He’d rather lose a good cook than let you walk out on him.”
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