Employee Spotlights

My Traditions – a new series

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We’re proud of the cultural diversity of our 7,000-plus employees at Presbyterian Homes & Services (PHS). So today we’re introducing a new series called My Traditions – amplifying voices of PHS employees and honoring unique traditions from across the world!

kitchen director
Lisa Ekiyor, commissary kitchen director

Many cultural traditions come to life around a celebratory meal. “Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul,” church reformer Dorothy Day once said.

Nourishing the soul of a community is Lisa Ekiyor’s unique passion. She is kitchen commissary director at Optage Senior Dining Choices. (Optage is the home and community services division of PHS.)

Each year Optage Senior Dining Choices serves nearly 2 million meals, mostly to seniors with low income living in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro. Lisa’s team is known for cooking most of these meals from scratch.

Beyond serving the wider community, the team carves out time once a month to come together over a cultural meal. African, Black American, Hmong, Karen, Burmese, Lao, Filipino, Iraqi, Mexican, Ecuadorian traditional meals … you name it!

Nutrition & Culinary Director Vidal Cruz Hernandez enjoys sampling the wide range of delicious food, adding, “We share our culture so others can get to know a little more about the food, our traditions and language,” he says.

“We welcome anybody,” Lisa explains. “Say [a team member] wants to celebrate a really wonderful Italian meal. I’ll say, ‘Okay, tell me what you need – you can cook or give me the recipes and then I’ll cook.’”

Lisa traces her inspiration to her mother Mary. “We always had room at our table for whomever,” Lisa reflects. “Always breaking bread together.”

As the youngest of five kids, Lisa recalls, “I was the main one in the kitchen with [Mom] from the time I could sit on a stool. One of the first things she taught me to make was tortillas.”

mother
Lisa Ekiyor’s inspiration – her mother Mary

Lisa describes her mom as a “phenomenal baker” who also cooked based on “old, old recipes” from her Mexican heritage. “Just growing up around her, everything that she did was from scratch.” Lisa continues, “I mean, everyone has their traditions, but for us it was always through food.”

Although Lisa’s mother passed away more than two decades ago, her culinary traditions live on through her handwritten recipes. “All of her recipes I have laminated,” Lisa explains, “and when I’m making them and see her handwriting, it always makes my heart so warm.”

It’s these heartwarming traditions that Lisa says “are just grown inside of me and I want to share them!”

recipesDuring the recent holidays, Lisa made her mother’s Mexican Wedding Cakes, Pineapple-Filled Cookies and Cherry Bundt Cakes to spread joy and happiness among her teammates.

Because “happy people make happy food!” she says.

Do you know someone looking for more purpose in their work? Share the good news and the many opportunities to join our team at www.preshomes.org/careers.

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Authentic food brings together a multicultural team
Optage Senior Dining: Delivering meals and hope
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