This year, Lisa Marie Murtagh finely chopped, seasoned, diced, griddled and layered Wellspring’s eclectic and vital array of in kind food donations into hearty casseroles, flavorful salads and her signature custard French toast. She transformed hunger into love as the Nutrition Services coordinator.
“Everything is donated and I supplement our donations with veggies,” she said. “Every day is about trying to be creative. I just recently started serving shepherd’s pie because we have a lot of guests who donate instant mashed potatoes.”
“I love this place,” she said. “It has been the best experience.”
Now, Lisa-Marie’s temporary position is ending and Wellspring welcomes back full-time Nutrition Service Coordinator Julie Oliver.
Prior to working at Wellspring, Lisa-Marie found herself unemployed for a year after accepting a new job as a chef in a downtown Sacramento restaurant. However, she was laid off eight weeks into the job when the owner decided to downsize the menu.
“My daughter and I live together and we had been surviving on her salary of $1,200 a month for both of us during that year,” she said. “We still had to pay rent and buy food for ourselves and our pets who are family, too.”
“I was sitting on my patio one evening crying and praying to God that something would present itself that would involve working with a non-profit,” she said.
That evening she was put in touch with Julie who was about to go on medical leave from the job.
The stars aligned and a week later, Lisa Marie started at Wellspring.
“I made hot meals every single day,” she said. “Especially going into winter, it’s cold and I know that a lot of our guests are homeless. They need to have at least one hot meal a day. I thought, ‘This could be their only hot meal for the day so I want it to be comforting. I want it to be something that fills them up and warms them up while they are here.”
This was no easy feat, given the center’s dutiful but limited kitchen, including two ovens and no stove.
“Cooking is love and food brings people together in every culture globally,” she said. “It is a way of connecting with the earth, with your surroundings and with the people who you are feeding.”
One of Lisa-Marie’s first cooking positions was at Nina’s Courtyard Café in Placerville, Calif. Like Wellspring, the restaurant was run by women.
“It was the most amazing group of women I have ever worked with,” she said. “There was every age-range. We had an oven, two little burners and no fryer. It was nothing really fancy – salad, sandwiches, soups and homemade cookies, but there was so much love in that place and so much joy.”
Nina, the owner, said, “Surround yourself with people who are better than you and they will lift you up. You will rise to meet them.”
“So that is what I try to do,” Lisa-Marie said.
Her biggest accomplishment to date is the Mother’s Day brunch that she cooked for Wellspring. Lisa Marie was able to serve up the delectable feast on a shoestring budget of $250. She singlehandedly prepared French toast, frittatas, bacon and a berry trifle for 300 guests.
“My experience at Wellspring and with the guests was deeply meaningful to me,” she said. “I had been down on my luck and a single parent struggling to survive more than once in my life. Sometimes that was due to my poor decisions and sometimes it was due to things I could not control. So I bring a different understanding and awareness to what some of our guests may be experiencing.”
What have you learned from Wellspring?
“I’ve learned to have more patience and be less judgmental,” she said. “We all have a story to tell and I think sharing our story is what empowers us. I firmly believe that as women we should be building each other up rather than tearing each other down. That’s something I believe even more because of this place.”
“God puts you where you need to be and where you are needed,” she added. “I think it has been mutually beneficial for myself and the guests. This place and these people have become my family. They have given me so much more than I have given to them. From the staff, to the guests, to the volunteers, my life has been truly blessed. I have made friendships and connections that will stay with me forever. I am the one who is lucky to have walked through Wellspring’s doors.”