Sumiyati Monoarfa: paying it forward at the Dalt Hotel.
On the last Sunday of every month, at around 4pm, you will find Sumiyati Monoarfa, or Sumi, as the Dalt Hotel tenants call her—serving her homemade soups, beans, and other specialty dishes from the Dalt community kitchen to any tenant who needs a home cooked meal.
Sumi, a Dalt Hotel resident since December 2004, noticed a common thread among her fellow tenants that needed addressing: people were hungry, and many didn’t know how to cook, have the implements to do so, or have adequate space in their homes’ small kitchenettes.
Because tenants did not have the means or knowledge to cook, food donated by the San Francisco Food Bank would often go unused.
Armed with this knowledge, Sumi took on the responsibility of finding a way to transform these raw ingredients into fortifying meals to feed her neighbors in the Dalt Hotel. When asked what started this monthly tradition, Sumi said she “couldn’t stand seeing all those vegetables and beans from the weekly San Francisco Food Bank donations go to waste.”
Many tenants, Sumi says, don’t know what to do with these vegetables, but Sumi, who was raised in a large family who spent a lot of time cooking, knew how to turn the food bank leftovers into hearty meals.
“Everyone is hungry by the end of the month, regardless of income,” Sumi points out.
And Sumi is not only helping meet a basic need for many tenants, but her monthly cooking sessions also foster a great sense of community and family within the Dalt Hotel.
“Tenants will come get food for their disabled neighbors or street folks. They look out for one another. Others will provide spices, meats and other food items.”
Sumi says everyone contributes in one way or another, whether it is donating a few dollars to cover the more luxury food items, contributing pots and pans, putting flyers up to advertise the free meals or recipe sharing. Sumi also says she is grateful for her sister, Oranoca Taime, who donates food and clothing to the Dalt tenants.
Sumi is also considerate of tenant’s special dietary needs, including vegetarians, tenants on low sodium diets and those who have medical dietary restrictions.
Sumi also says the kitchen itself is a place to connect with other residents.
“It’s like being a big sister. Tenants tell me their problems while I cook, and we have a discussion. To me, kitchen is family.”
So what does Sumi think about the Dalt community relying on her monthly meals? “Do you know the phrase ‘Pay it Forward?’ I believe that philosophy started at the Dalt.”