Rusty Rae/News-Register ##
Robin Miguel prepares vegetables at the Soup Kitchen @ St. Barnabas. She said she enjoys the creative challenge afforded by donations from gardeners in the community.
Rusty Rae/News-Register ## Robin Miguel prepares vegetables at the Soup Kitchen @ St. Barnabas. She said she enjoys the creative challenge afforded by donations from gardeners in the community.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Stopping by: She lives a philosophy of giving

Soup kitchen chef wants everyone to have access to nutritious meals

Robin Miguel hitchhiked across the country looking for the meaning of life, and found it: helping others, especially by feeding them.

The operations manager of the Soup Kitchen @ St. Barnabas has helped numerous people in her 29 years in the food business. She also spent 10 years working for Washington County Hospice as volunteer and bereavement coordinator — another way of helping others.

“I love my life,” said Miguel, who maintains a pollinator garden so she can also feed the bees and birds. “I’m very, very fortunate. I’m so freakin’ lucky.”

The soup kitchen’s only paid employee, Miguel marked five years as operations manager in May.

She cooks herself and oversees the volunteers who work in the kitchen, serve and act as board members of the organization, started in 1990 by women of the church.

Although it continues to operate from the St. Barnabas basement, the donation-funded program depends on people from all over the community. And it offers meals to anyone in need of food, no questions asked.

Miguel knows what it’s like to be in that situation. As a teenager, she was homeless.

She was 15, an emancipated minor, when she hitchhiked to Big Sur, California, from her native New York. She found work cleaning rooms at the La Playa Motel, but she couldn’t stay there; instead, she slept in the bushes.

“I kept my uniform spotless,” she said. “I had an alarm clock I set so I could get up, get dressed and get to work on time.”

Other homeless people who camped nearby kept an eye on the young woman. Sometimes they even awakened her, fearing her alarm clock might be broken; they knew she wouldn’t want to miss work.

“I understand that this is a chosen lifestyle for many people,” she said. “Good people.”

Her next job was life changing, because it set her on the culinary path: She worked at Peyton’s Place, a combination deli and health food shop in the Carmel Valley. The owner, Peyton March, became a surrogate father, she said.

“He taught me everything about the business, from sweeping the floors to doing books to running the kitchen,” she said.

Peyton’s had a microwave oven, Miguel recalled. That was cutting-edge technology at the time, and no one took it for granted; they loved it or hated it. There was no difference of opinion about March himself, though. He was universally treasured.

He attracted a following, serving espresso — something you couldn’t get many places back in the late 1960s and early ‘70s — along with lasagna and vegetarian dishes to people such as Ansel Adams and Allen Funt, as well as locals.

From Peyton’s Place, Miguel moved on to Whittier College. She worked in the food service department headed by Chef Henry Gomez, who had been chef at Buckingham Palace.

“That was a great kitchen and line, with amazing food,” she recalled.

Gomez gave her an Escoffier cookbook, too, showing he took her seriously — unlike many men treated women in restaurant kitchens back then.

She went on to train with other master chefs, including Hartmut Handke and Gualtiero Marchesi. She was usually the only female on the hot line, she said.

“Back then, they tried to break women down,” she said. “You had to take their grief until you earned their respect.”

She did everything her male coworkers did, including lifting heavy pots. “I couldn’t ask for help” or otherwise show emotion that could be perceived as weakness, she said.

She recalled one chef, Fred Hosli, who asked her why she didn’t cry. She told him she might shed tears in her car after work, but never in his kitchen. From that day forward, Hosli treated as an equal, and made sure the rest of the staff did, too.

“After that, it was easy to work with them,” she said.

When she moved to another job, at a country club in Ohio, her positive reputation preceded her. But the men in that restaurant didn’t realize she was a woman — her last name at the time sounded Asian, and they expected a male chef from Japan. 

A Japanese chef would have pleased them, but “oh, they didn’t want a woman!” recalled Miguel, who’s actually of Cuban and Danish stock.

After testing her with difficult tasks, they realized she could do the job. From then on, “we had a great time” working to put out great food, she said.

Miguel returned to the West Coast to care for Marsh in his final months of life. She also worked as a corporate chef for a major insurance company.

Later, she decided to move to Oregon, where her mother and grandmother lived. She lived in Washington County. A friend there introduced her to the head of the hospice program. 

After she told the woman about her experience as a caregiver, she was hired for public relations for the nonprofit program. Soon she became a volunteer and bereavement coordinator.

During her decade at the hospice, she commuted to Hillsboro from her home in Carlton. She still lives there, sharing quarters with Frida the dog, Diego the cat, and the wild creatures that fly by.

“Buzzingham Palace,” she calls the home where she raises plants that attract pollinators. “I love feeding bees, too.” 

Her son, Taylor, a professional skateboarder, helped her establish the garden three years ago. Using seeds from the Seed Savers Exchange, she planted sunflowers, zinnia, cosmos and other flowers that attract bees, butterflies and other bugs along with birds, such as yellow finches. 

“I start with purple flowers and add other colors,” she said, “and I leave it up until spring so eggs can develop. I don’t pull things until I see flight, and I collect the seeds to replant.”

She relishes the bounty of the garden, whether nectar for birds or produce she can use in meals at the Soup Kitchen @ St. Barnabas.

Summer is a great time there, Miguel said, because numerous local gardeners donate “all these incredible vegetables.” 

She arrives at work to find piles of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, apples, pears and other vegetables and fruits. Deciding how to use them is a pleasant challenge.

“You can make all these great things from simple, healthful ingredients — who could ask for more?” she said.

Recently, she grilled pears for a chicken salad, and cut up zucchini and chorizo to add to a slab quiche — a popular, always different entree at the soup kitchen. Both dishes combine fresh produce with things already on hand in the fridge, freezer or pantry, such as eggs, cheese, chicken, rice, beans and other staples. 

“I loved the creativity,” she said. 

Sometimes, she just lets the produce shine, using the soup kitchen’s grill to caramelize vegetables. They can be served as is or added to salads or casseroles. 

The weather makes a difference in summer, too. On hot days, Miguel makes something cooling; often, it’s a dish that can be served at room temperature. Such meals are especially valued by people who can’t move indoors to cool off.

“Lately we’ve been moving a lot of salad,” she said. She might add chicken to a green salad one day, and mix it with dressing and vegetables for a sandwich filling the next. 

Dressing is a must with every salad, Miguel said. She makes most of the salad dressing herself, just as she starts everything from scratch. Things taste better and are more nutritious that way, compared to things that come from a box, she said.

But there’s one thing she cannot make on site: ranch dressing. “People have to have their Hidden Valley Ranch,” she said affectionately, shaking her head.

She draws the line there, though. When diners ask for chocolate milk or pre-made Thousand Island dressing, she tells them to “dream on.”

Each dinner includes a protein, dessert, milk, ice tea or water. Now that everything is prepared for takeout because of coronavirus restrictions, Miguel makes sure a fork and napkin are included in each box.

“People need to get something with good vitamins,” she said. “They need to stay healthy.”

She also keeps in mind “what needs to be used up,” she said, sticking to the “first in, first out” principle. That’s part of her overall plan to use food and funds efficiently, she said.

Miguel is known for running a tight ship. Board members praise her efficiency and creativity.

Tom Tankersley, one of the board members, said the board asked Miguel to develop a plan for serving during the pandemic. “We’re all better off if people can eat here,” he said. “They have more choices, and social time. But we have to keep everyone safe.” 

He and the rest of the board have every confidence in Miguel. “We’re so blessed to have her here. Her heart is for the guests,” he said. 

Not only is she a good cook and efficient manager, he said, she also is able to enforce rules in a respectful way. “She’s not just feeding, but she’s really nourishing people in many ways,” Tankersley said.

“And she’s a delightful person.”

When an anonymous donor offered to pay for expanding from four to five days a week last year, he said, Miguel carefully considered how it could be done while maintaining high standards.

She invited a group of soup kitchen diners to discuss the matter, and they promised to help.

Miguel recalled, “I told them, when you give freely, you are blessed.”

Since then, diners have volunteered to run the place on that fifth day.

“They are a resource. It’s their soup kitchen, too,” she said. “And they did get blessed. When you give freely, the universe takes care of you.”

The Soup Kitchen @ St. Barnabas serves take-out meals from 3:45 to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays. 

Free meals are available to anyone in need of food. No paperwork is required.


The Soup Kitchen @ St. Barnabas closed its doors to diners in the spring because of the coronavirus pandemic. Except for a few days, though, the McMinnville free meal site continued serving, handing out boxed dinners rather than plates of food.

“If it was intense before, now it’s really intense,” said Robin Miguel, soup kitchen manager.

Since the pandemic started, 110 to 145 people have been served each day. In August and September, attendance was down somewhat in the first 10 days of each month. Miguel isn’t sure why.

She sees about 15 new faces a night.

“For a while, we had more farmworkers,” she said. “Now we’re getting a lot of loners; some of them are passing through or they’ve been displaced and come in RVs or trailers.”

It’s a diverse group, but they share gratitude for the soup kitchen.

“They’re so appreciative,” she said. “They tell us how beautiful we are.”

The soup kitchen sends about 30 boxed lunches to the Champion Team each day. A Family Place collects one or two dozen, and a few are served to people who drive or walk up to the door.

At dinnertime, regulars and newcomers people arrive by car, bike or on foot. Some ask for several meals to take to their family or to friends. Miguel approves. It’s better for social distancing if a group sends one person to pick up food.

Besides, it’s another example of how take care of one another, she said.

She misses seeing those who came to the soup kitchen before March, when they could eat inside. Take-out is best for safety, she said, “but I don’t get to lay eyes on them.

“We all know each other,” she said. “I like to listen to them and show I care.”

It’s a great loss for her, she said, because she knows the regulars well and values every one.

“I think everybody is worthy of kindness,” she said. “I’ve never laid eyes on someone God doesn’t love.”

Although fall has just started, Miguel already is worrying about what will happen with the soup kitchen, and its patrons, when winter arrives. Cold, rain and darkness aren’t ideal for a population without transportation and a warm place to stay.

“It has to be safe for everyone,” she said.

She hopes coronavirus restrictions will be eased by then. “I want to see people. I want to hear forks hitting plates,” she said.

She remains optimistic.

“We’ll figure it out,” she said. “We’ll figure it out in a way everybody’s safe and feels loved on.”




Robin Miguel has somehow bridged the gap between those that have and those in need. Her efforts have made her the darling angel of the homeless community and McMinnville itself. I cannot imagine what would be our current scenario if people like Robin did not step up and do the jobs that we will not do. A lot of people owe Robin a debt of gratitude and this article is a good start. but is merely a down payment. Thank you Robin!


How does one volunteer to help Robin and the other volunteers in such a noble expression of love of neighbor?


In answer to Hibb’s “how does one volunteer....?” Contact Robin @ The Soup Kitchen 503-472-3711. Leave a message. She will return calls.
One thing to bear in mind- because of COVID restrictions, we are trying to minimize the number of volunteers who would have direct contact with our guests.Both the guests and volunteers who hand out the to-go meals are required to wear masks. If a guest doesn’t have one, we will provide it. The volunteers are also gloved. Plus we have a hand washing station set up. Hope this helps.

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