Feeding the Soul

Keeping up in the Kitchen at the Women’s Wellness Retreat

The Women’s Wellness Retreat is an annual summer pilgrimage to Woody Island where women of varied ages and backgrounds spend a weekend celebrating their commonalities and differences. This year’s retreat brought together 67 participants to share inspiring personal stories of their healing journeys. 

The weekend offered many activities that encouraged conversation and camaraderie, including pine needle basketweaving, sewing fabric bowls, and crocheting baby hats which were donated to KANA to provide for newborns. The serene setting was also an opportunity for introspective solo activities, such as painting and writing passages for life journals and affirmation boxes. 

Each year during the opening ceremony of the retreat, an Elder lights an Alutiiq lamp alongside the youngest participant. Lily Pestrikoff and Jasmine Parker performed the tradition this year. The weekend wrapped up with a closing ceremony where an honor quilt is presented to someone who has recently overcome major life obstacles. This year, Kathy Larson, Tina Hoen, and Emily Salter were honored with quilts. 

A major tradition in many cultures is bringing communities together through food. The retreat demonstrates this perfectly as mealtimes are an opportunity for social circles to entwine and for acquaintances to become friends. 

Dining options were plentiful, with a buffet of comfort foods ranging from perok and smoked salmon to pastas and salads. “Meals are based on what went well during past retreats,” says kitchen coordinator Gwen Sargent. “Some of the core staff members and kitchen staff brainstorm new recipes and ideas.” Meals were rounded out with fresh fruits, vegetables, and desserts.

New this year was the pasta bar, allowing individuals to mix and match their noodle and sauce choices as they wished. A Saturday tradition during the retreat is salmon and corned beef perok. Gwen used her grandmother’s pie crust and perok recipe, bringing more personal heritage to the event.

The logistics of feeding over 70 people through the three days of the retreat requires weeks of planning. Non-perishable food is purchased in advance and held in one of KANA’s storage facilities. Perishable food items were scheduled through Safeway and Cost Savers to be packed and delivered to the harbor docks for Thursday morning. An awaiting skiff shuttled the food over to Woody Island where the goods were hauled up to the kitchen. 

Cooking in the kitchen alongside Gwen this year were Gayla Pederson, Destiny Ritter, and Shannon Blackman. She described the team as a “well-oiled machine”. Gayla, a newcomer to the retreat’s kitchen, but a mainstay of Kodiak’s Native foods scene, says, “It was an honor for me to feed the women that build and grow our community.” 

While the four cooks concentrated on preparing meals, others were busy washing dishes and cleaning up after each meal. Retreat participants signed up for chores: bussing tables, wiping down surfaces, sweeping and mopping the floors, and helping transition the dining hall through each meal. “Right after breakfast kitchen staff is already prepping for lunch and after lunch for dinner,” said Gwen. 

Any food items that were not used were donated to both Brother Frances Shelter and the Kodiak Women’s Resource and Crisis Center.

The Women’s Wellness Retreat is coordinated by KANA, Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak, and the Kodiak Women’s Resource & Crisis Center. Applications for next year’s retreat will be made available in late spring of 2018. 

Photos by Lydia Olsen