A pandemic can already seem extra frightening for seniors, especially having to deal with the repercussions in isolation. One man in Provo, Utah, has made it his mission to help as many of these homebound seniors as he can with a daily pick-me-up.
Tim Torkildson, who goes by “Tork,” finds cooking to be a stress reliever during hard times, and so he’s putting it to good use, preparing home-cooked meals for his fellow residents at Valley Villa Senior Housing in Provo. “Cooking is an expression of who I am and what I believe,” he says. “People need to get together over a good, simple meal.”
As the father of eight, he is well accustomed to cooking for a large crowd without breaking the bank. He is so used to cooking for a crowd that he wants to keep doing it, but he knows he can’t finish all that food himself.
He has made a commitment to cook for others every single day until the pandemic emergency is over. He wants to prevent the other residents from having to go out as much as possible, and so offering his meals is his way of helping promote healthy social distancing. “Most of the residents here are 60 years old or older,” he said. “Many of them find it difficult to cook and so end up eating out or just opening a can of soup. I want them give them a home-cooked meal.” Simple things like cornbread and beans are a staple, but he also branches out into many culinary avenues.
He has also lived-in other countries, such as Mexico and Thailand, and often incorporates these cooking styles into his fare. His neighbors pitch in by donating ingredients and he works his culinary magic. There is a lot of turnover in the complex, and recently he has noticed an influx of Latino residents. He has tried his hand at traditional dishes from their cultures to give them a taste of home. He recently made a hominy soup with pork and green chilies and is also trying his hand at menudo, a traditional tripe soup.
He loved to make spicy Thai curries that he learned as a missionary in Thailand, but unfortunately many of the residents’ stomachs can’t take it anymore. “To be honest,” he said, “neither can mine!”
Most of the things that people contributed were normal things like carrots and potatoes, but occasionally he would get something really strange. “One day, someone dropped by a package of nori, which is Japanese seaweed.” He still managed to use the nori by lining a soup pot with it before he made a soup to give it extra flavor. He also has gotten many things from the residents’ long-term food storage supplies, which he enjoys turning into delectable dishes.
According to Torkildson, his crowning achievement came around Christmas time, when he knew that many of the residents would not be able to enjoy a Christmas dinner with family. He wanted to provide that for them, so he approached his local religious leaders and asked for some donated ingredients so that he could deliver the food door-to-door on Christmas Day.
He soon realized, however, that he had bitten off more than he could chew. He enlisted his local children and grandchildren to help him with the efforts, both in preparing the feast and delivering it. They made a ham that “looked like Mount Everest” and put all the Christmas dinners with all the fixings on a cart that they could wheel around the complex. His grandkids helped deliver the food, and at the end, they declared that it was “the best Christmas they had had in years.”
Torkildson had to pause his operations over the Winter when he became very ill—not with COVID-19 but with something else that kept him mostly confined to his house. During this time, the neighbors he had served rallied around him and would drop food off at his place. His children in the area also supplied him with cans of soup to keep him going when he didn’t feel like eating much.
Fortunately, he recovered from his illness and is back up and running, cooking on the weekends and a couple times during the week.
Torkildson is also no stranger to making people happy. He is a retired professional clown for Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey. He’s also an experienced poet with a penchant for limericks, or “Timericks,” as he calls them. He keeps his skills sharp by writing limericks about current events several times a week. He sends them to various publications, including the New York Times, which ran an article on him in 2018.
With no shortage of ways to lift others’ spirits, Torkildson is using his talents to make a difference through a difficult time.
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