Hello, besties! International Friendship Day is July 30th, and there’s no better way to celebrate than talking with one of our BFFs! Jesse James Laderoute is one of our all-time favorite people, and he’s doing some phenomenally cool work in Toronto cooking nutritious food for the homeless.
Jesse started volunteering at drop-in centers in his free time by cooking vegetarian meals for people in need. Once the pandemic hit, he had more time to get the word out and collect donations to fund meals. Now, he’s created an entire network to arrange donations with drop-in centers and encampments across the city, and coordinate drivers to deliver meals that have been cooked at Vit Beo, a Vietnamese restaurant owned by his friend David Hyunh.
What made you decide to start cooking food for people in need?
I started doing it because of the increasing precariousness of housing and the rising expense of living in Toronto. It came to my attention that much of the food being donated to drop-in centers was of very low quality and contained very little in the way of nutrients in the form of vegetables.
Initially, I was cooking the food out of my own kitchen, which was difficult. Once I got involved with Dave at Vit Beo, we expanded into cooking some meat dishes at the request of the places we were donating to. The goal is still to always make a healthy, full meal. But we also make comfort food, because everyone deserves that once in a while as well.
What do you enjoy most about the work you’re doing?
I enjoy cooking, so it doesn't feel like work. I get to experiment with different recipes with my friend in a small commercial kitchen...which takes a lot of the joyless labor out of cooking. It's a lot easier to get things done quickly when you have food processors, a Vitamix, and a dishwasher that only takes a minute to wash everything.
Of course, sharing food is a gesture of love, and that's what we try to get across when we're thinking of things we'd like to cook. It's always food we want to eat ourselves.
What are your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge remains what can only be considered a complete lack of understanding of the severity of the problem of hunger by the city of Toronto...or their complete apathy towards a problem they are aware of.
We usually cook 30 to 40 meals a week. Anything over 30 goes to community fridges set up around town to try to accommodate basic needs. They are often empty because the need is so great. And most times, there are people waiting nearby to take the food as soon as we're dropping it off. It's unconscionable. It shouldn't be my responsibility to do this, but because of the political reality in Toronto, I feel like I have to...and am happy to do it.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I'd like to remind people that whether you're a great cook or not, doing this type of work is a great way to help. I know for a fact that people appreciate it. Making a larger batch of something healthy that makes people feel loved doesn't take much effort. And it can be done for very little money with the right recipe.
There are many ways to engage with the problem of homelessness and food insecurity, but doing something instead of nothing is always the right choice.
We totally stan Jesse and the essential work he’s doing, and want to help. So, when you shop at Friends NYC on International Friendship Day, you will be contributing to our donation to help support his efforts to provide healthy, nutritious food to people in need.