Zhazira: The Kazakh way of sharing food

Zhazira is a research scholar on assignment at George Washington University. The monthly stipend she receives is not enough to meet her family’s expenses in the costly environment of Washington, so she has reached out to Food For All DC for support.

Zhazira with the seven balls of dough that will become the seven breads (see below)

Zhazira is from Kazakhstan, where the sharing of food is a common expression of religion and culture. One way this manifests is through jeti nan shelpek taratu (the sharing of seven pieces of bread), a tradition that predates the conversion of Kazakhstan to Islam in the 10th century. In those early days of shamanism, it was believed that by sharing bread (shelpek) with those in need, one was feeding the souls of the ancestors.

To this day, Kazakh families bake 7 pieces of bread every Friday, the Islamic holiday, and serve them to street people or neighbors. In Islam, the sharing of food is also a virtue, so Kazakh people have blended their religion with their culture to make Friday a day of honoring humanity through food.

Seven breads baked and ready to share!

Another important food sharing event occurs during the Kazakh new year holiday, called Nauryz (“new day”), that starts on March 21, the day of the spring equinox. During Nauryz, families from a community carry homemade soup (Nauryz kozhe) to a central location. They mix all these soups together and share the common soup with everyone to be taken back home. This custom helps build bridges between rich and poor, thereby reinforcing the sense of community. People also believe it strengthens truthfulness. These two examples capture the community-based nature of Kazakh society.

Every Kazakh community takes care of its people, so no one has to suffer from a lack of food. Food For All does the same, making sure that DC residents have enough food to share with themselves, their families and their neighbors.

Another unique story related to food comes from Kazakh history. The years 1930-1937 were a dark period for the Kazakh people. Stalin artificially created a famine in Kazakh lands, killed the intelligentsia and put their family members in concentration camps. The camp conditions were harsh, with barely enough food given to sustain life. It was only due to a clandestine and unusual food sharing practice that countless lives were saved.

The food in question is a Kazakh national food called kurt, a dry cheese made of fermented milk, which looks like a stone. Kazakhs would throw this cheese over the boundary fence at the camp prisoners. The Soviet soldiers thought the people were throwing stones, and didn’t investigate further. When the guards’ backs were turned, the prisoners ate the “stones” and managed to survive in those horrific conditions. The same scenario happened at the beginning of the 20th century, when the Soviets relocated ethnic and minority groups from their homelands to the Central Asian territories. When these people suffered from a lack of food, Kazakhs would also threw them “kurt” to save their lives. Today, minority groups often recall the Kazakh culture and how Kazakhs saved the lives of their ancestors, even though the Kazakhs were suffering at that time too. 

To see a dramatization of this, watch the following video from the 2-minute mark.

Meet Ms. Ike!

Doris Ike grew up in rural Virginia, and spent a lot of her childhood on her uncle’s farm. In addition to tending to the land and the cows, her uncle was a part-time hairdresser. People loved to sit in his chair not only for the haircut, but also for his common-sense wisdom. He always had a story to

Ms. Ike with our Director Peter Sage

Seeing the way her uncle cut hair inspired Ms. Ike, and at that young age
she decided to become a beautician. And that was her destiny. Doris moved
to Washington DC, completed a beautician training and ended up as an
apprentice to Jean Paul, who styled Jacqueline Kennedy’s hair. “I picked up
a lot of skills with Jean Paul,” says Ms. Ike, “especially shampooing skills. I
was so good that everyone wanted me to shampoo their hair.”

Cindy has been delivering to Ms. Ike since she first contacted FFA in September 2022. FFA provides designated drivers for some clients to provide both food and friendship.

All those skills served Ms. Ike well when she opened her own salon on
Benning Road in 1973. The Curly Que Beauty Salon became a social hub for
the community. People would bring their whole families for their hair and
the social banter. Ms. Ike was welcoming to everyone, following her own
teaching that “if you want a friend, be a friend”.

One of Ms. Ike’s rallying cries is “never give up,” as illustrated in this picture.

After retirement, Ms. Ike continued to bring joy into people’s lives by
volunteering at the VA hospital as a receptionist. She created quite a fuss as
she always came in well dressed, with an impressive head of hair. “I always
used to tell people that you should look your best to be your best.”

In her apartment, Ms. Ike has assembled a montage celebrating her perseverance through 85 years of life. It highlights her favorite color, her inspirational heroes and her daily passions, such as the aesthetics of personal appearance.

Say hi to Su!

Su moved to DC a year ago from her native Costa Rica.

Every Thursday morning, Su takes the inventory at FFA.

She loves DC because it is multi-cultural and has many Spanish speakers. She finds the same diversity at FFA. “When a group is diverse,” says Su, “the different perspectives teach us more about life.”

During her eight months volunteering at FFA, Su has enjoyed the horizontal structure. At FFA everyone sees how they can best fit in, be that bagging, flattening boxes or taking inventory. Everyone is open to doing whatever it takes to get the food out the door. This is motivating. “I feel more valued at FFA than in a hierarchical corporate environment,” she says.

Volunteering with FFA has given Su other insights. “Now I know there is more to life that sitting at work in front of a PC,” says Su. “There are many other worlds to explore outside the workplace.” Su also values food more. “Many people don’t have the means to meet their own food needs, so I value everything I put on my plate.” FFA has also inspired Su to watch what she puts in her stomach. “I am learning more about ingredients and how to better read food labels as a discerning consumer.”

August News — Partners in Solidarity

From the Director: Solidarity Partners

Photo of Peter Sage, Food For All Executive Director

A crucial aspect of FFA’s ability to fulfill its mission is its relationship with like-minded partners. Our diverse partners help us with funding, and food access, delivery, and distribution. Just as an individual needs support from others to survive (including that of Mother Earth!), an organization needs bonds of solidarity to succeed.

FFA thanks all those entities that walk with us on the path of service and welcomes two new partners highlighted in this newsletter: DoorDash for food delivery, and GEICO for funding. Together we fight food insecurity!

Distribution Partner: Trabajadores Unidos

FFA has partnered with Trabajadores Unidos de Washington DC (United Workers of Washington DC) since the height of the pandemic, supplying food on a weekly basis to the day laborer community. This partnership exemplifies FFA’s slogan “Solidarity through Food.”

We recently met up with Mario Cristaldo, TU’s executive director. Mario has been in the non-profit sector for 20 years and recently joined TU to further his life’s mission of advocating for those without a strong voice in society. He has already made some great achievements, starting a resource center for day laborers, lobbying the DC Government to get stimulus money for TU members, and securing health insurance available to low-income workers.

FFA is pleased to stand in solidarity with TU and the important community it supports.  The day laborers know that if food is ever in short supply at home, they can access the deliveries made by FFA every Friday without condition.  

New Delivery Partner: Door Dash

With demand for food increasing due to rising costs and with volunteers returning to the office, FFA has struggled to find enough weekday drivers. Enter Project Dash, DoorDash’s nationwide service project. FFA now has a solid partnership with DoorDash that provides over 50 free household deliveries every week. Thanks to this partnership, we never have to turn people away due to a shortage of volunteer drivers.

FFA is delighted that first Amazon Fresh, and now DoorDash, have recognized our important work of providing food security for our DC neighbors. These solid partnerships give us strength – and legitimacy – as a volunteer run organization.

New Funding Partner: GEICO

GEICO provides its employees the opportunity to highlight organizations for which they volunteer during its annual giving program. This year, Maya, a Saturday volunteer driver, presented FFA to the selections committee and secured a $20,000 donation! The committee appreciated the grassroots and volunteer nature of FFA, as well as the ease with which people can volunteer. Thank you, GEICO and Maya!

We are grateful for our amazing, committed volunteers, and all who continue to support FFA in every way. 

Are you an #ffarunner?

🏃‍♀️🏃🏃‍♂️Runners: This Sunday, April 24, we get to run 5K with the Brau Runners to benefit Food For All DC and hang out at DC Brau Brewery after, have a beer, and celebrate spring and the start of FFA’s spring campaign! Run starts at the brewery at 11 a.m. Be an #ffarunner

😴 ☕️ Non-runners: Yeah…it’s Sunday morning, and some of us are just not ready for that. But we can greet those overachievers on their successful return to the brewery and enjoy the beer and good company. Bonus, you’ll also get to sleep later: hanging out starts at 11:30, upon the runners’ return. (Non-runners are also welcome to walk the route or even bike it and cheer on the runners.)

What is a Brau Run? It is a free 5K-ish route run/walk starting and ending at DC Brau Brewery that benefits a different non-profit each month. Free t-shirts for first-timers!  It’s a casual run, with no registration required. And all participants get a FREE beer after the run! Attendees are encouraged to donate to the non-profit of the month, which is us(!) Food For All DC this month.

Special thanks to the Brau Runners, who come together monthly for running, supporting the DC community, and beer. They designate a different group each month and this is the third time FFA is the beneficiary, thanks to our longtime and steadfast volunteers Jess and Kevin. And thanks to DC Brau Brewing, too, for hosting and supporting good work! 
DC Brau Brewery is at 3178 Bladensburg Road NE. Once you turn into the parking lot, go through the arch that says DC Brau and down the hill to the back of the parking lot. For more information contact

Image of the front cover of the 2021 Annual Report

Our First-Ever Annual Report

It is an honor to share Food for All DC’s 2021 Annual Report with you. This report demonstrates the huge impact we collectively have in supporting food insecure residents of Washington, DC. Because of your generous engagement with FFA, we were able to meet the needs of everyone who contacted us in the more challenging months of the pandemic. And we were able to support other partner organizations in their endeavor to soften the blow of the pandemic for their constituents.

Thank you for your solidarity.

Partner Profile: Amazon Fresh

In August 2021, Food For All partnered with Amazon Fresh through a program administered by the Capital Area Food Bank called Meal Connect. This partnership has become incredibly beneficial as it permits FFA to offer a broader range of food to our client participants. Every Thursday we pick up a truckload of meats, dairy items, bread and a selection of shelf stable food from Amazon Fresh Chevy Chase.

Our clients have noticed the new choices. Inez, for example, told us she had never eaten organic dairy before and was thrilled with the Greek yogurt. Thanks to these partnerships, we are able to share in the joys of discovering new favorites. Hearing from our community members like Inez makes us even more motivated to continue to grow partnerships like these.

Pet lovers (isn’t that all of us?) will appreciate that we even receive dog food periodically. We recently provided a gourmet brand to a client with a service dog. She reported that she had never seen such a contented look on the dog’s face! We love being able to be a part of people’s lives in this way, including their four-legged friends!

A “Food-ful” Partnership

Since May, 2020, Food for All has partnered with Mount Pleasant Neighbors Helping Neighbors to provide food assistance to struggling residents in this tight-knit DC neighborhood. Begun as a response to the dramatic spike in need during the pandemic, we continue to feed up to 250 families every week, making it clear that this small, community-led effort has become a lifeline for many. A recent survey of beneficiaries showed that about half would not have another option for food assistance.

One site is managed by the Woodner Apartments Tenants Union, a volunteer effort that supports residents in that building as well as three others. The sustained demand for food at this and our other site at Sacred Heart Church suggests that these communities suffered from underlying food insecurity prior to the pandemic. FFA and NHN are committed to helping these neighbors as long as funding lasts.

Interview with Reza, Volunteer Driver

After working as a consultant in Brazil for ten years, Reza decided to return to his roots in the DC area. Then the pandemic hit, and he reached out to Food For All.

Food For All: What volunteer work have you done for FFA?

Reza: Because of my knowledge of Spanish, I was asked to deliver food to the Latinx community. It was great getting to know people, most of whom lost their jobs because of the slowdown in the restaurant industry. The food we provided helped them get through this sudden challenge.

FFA: Why do you volunteer?

Reza: I am a spiritual person, which for me means creating connections with all life and expanding horizons. Food For All was a natural fit as it helped me become more aligned with people I did not know. If we have any hope of changing the world, we need to become familiar with each other. In a small way, therefore, Food For All has helped me contribute towards manifesting the world I want to see.

FFA: Have you faced any challenges?

Reza: It’s not always easy. There are times I’ve had to deal with ill-mannered people when driving along DC streets, when trying to park and when interacting with some clients. I am learning to meet people where they are and remain centered all the time.

FFA: Do you have any final thoughts?

Reza: Volunteering at FFA is enhanced by the camaraderie among the volunteers. It is so uplifting to interact with people motivated by their hearts.

Kathy Johnson: Rising from a challenge

Kathy Johnson holding her painting titled “Out of Africa.” Kathy, an animal lover, uses
National Geographic as an inspiration for animal paintings

Kathy Johnson, a Food For All recipient, is a cancer survivor who helps others get through the ordeal of chemotherapy. During her own chemotherapy Kathy felt trapped. She was losing herself. She knew the only way forward was to fight.

Her fight took different forms. Art provided a great refuge. Kathy was an art instructor at the YMCA many years ago, but stopped painting after getting a government job. During chemotherapy her son bought her some paints and she dived back in. Art was a panacea for the pain.

Another survival strategy was diet. Long before she was diagnosed with cancer, Kathy started eating healthier food, including a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables. That kept her weight down and her body strong, increasing her resilience to the cancer ordeal. She also stopped eating after 5 pm as a weight control measure.
Based on her own experience, Kathy has developed a straightforward philosophy of life: learn from tragedy, heal yourself well, and then help others.