Whatcom Hospice House Foundation has been operating for the past 10 years with the mission of providing comfort to those who have arrived at the end of their lives. The house has a total of 12 beds to care for those in need, and they also make themselves available to the families and loved ones there to be with their guests as they make their transitions. And for all 10 of those years, Gerardo Arreola Gonzalez has been part of the team making it all possible.
Gonzalez and his Solstice Senior Living team provides three chef-prepared meals each day to all residents through their Elevate dining program. Solstice’s Director of Sales and Marketing, Randi Axelsson, shared the program’s mission: “By creating meaningful connections through cuisine, [the program strives to] transform the dining experience into a culinary celebration that inspires the engagement of our residents, families, and friends.”
From his position in Solstice Senior Living kitchen, Gonzalez has created soups with loving care, which have become a key part of Hospice House’s services. He was originally approached by Kay Rich, a long-time hospice volunteer. “Kay was the person that started it,” Gonzalez says. “She used to come to the kitchen and ask me about it. In the beginning we were only doing once a month, I think, and then we made it twice a month, and then every week.”
This weekly ritual has become a staple at the hospice house, and its effects are felt by everyone from clients to staff. “I put the soup out in the family room every day at five o’clock,” says KC Templeton, assistant nursing manager. “The patients are offered the soup before it’s put out, then the rest is there for the family to enjoy.”
Many family members have traveled long distances and don’t know the town well enough to get around and feed themselves easily, so the offer of sustenance can be very gratifying. “Because it’s such a stressful, emotional time, it’s nice to have the smell of home-cooked foods, and the comfort,” Templeton says.
On Friday, February 21st, a delegation from the hospice house went to Solstice to say thank you. The team included Rich, Templeton, Administrative Specialist Erin Doucette and Director of Service Lines Gurpreet Dhillon, alongside Gonzalez and Axelsson. It was clear that everyone from hospice was appreciative of Gonzalez’s efforts, as well as fans of the soup, as they all smiled, said thanks, and shared favorite stories from the time they’ve worked together. Whatcom Hospice House presented a plaque thanking Solstice Senior Living for their involvement, and another honoring Gonzalez for his dedication.
Gonzalez’s soups have played an important role in his experience in the Solstice kitchen from the very beginning. “I was a chef in Arizona, but when I came to Solstice, the only spot open was kitchen helper,” Gonzalez says. He took the job. Early on, he asked the then-cook if he could try his hand at the soups. “I did, and I remember everybody asking ‘Who’s doing the soup?’ Everybody was happy.” It wasn’t long before Gonzalez stepped into the cook’s position, where he remains 11 years on.
The soup itself has enjoyed a bit of an evolution over the years, too. “A long time ago, it was made of leftovers,” Gonzalez recalls. “But I thought that if we just do that, it’s going to look bad; not only for the cook, but for the whole place.” He could imagine a conversation taking place over a mediocre batch of food: “‘Where’s this soup coming from?’ ‘Solstice.’ So I just tried doing my best. When you’re serving something, put some presentation into it and make it look good. I take it a little more seriously.”
And everyone benefits from having a larger audience for each pot of soup. Solstice has found a way around accidentally creating food waste, since they now have an outlet for any extras. “You can have a lot of good stuff, and some of the leftovers you can save, you can reheat; but some of it you can’t, and I think it’s good to provide that food for someone else,” says Gonzalez.
Everybody involved—Gonzalez, Solstice and Whatcom Hospice House—look forward to continuing this partnership into the future. And after all these years, Gonzalez continues to turn out satisfying meals that warm both the belly and the soul, to which Kay Rich happily testifies: “I often get two cups of Gerry’s soup, and skip dinner.”