Caregiving group delivers meals that feed body and soul

Published 11:53 am Thursday, July 28, 2022

All around Southwest Louisiana, compassionate folks look out for their neighbors by delivering food during an illness or a death in the family and sometimes just because. Demonstration of such kindness is uplifting, the act itself is healing.

In Connecticut, a group has organized to take the concept further. They’ve taken the recipes of traditional comfort foods and tweaked them. Instead of pork and beef meatloaf and mashed potatoes, they might deliver turkey meatloaf and squash carrot mash.

“The taste is still there and it’s healthier,” said Sarah Leathers, the founder of Healing Meals Community Project.

Email newsletter signup

Providing healthy meal options is just the beginning of what this group does to nourish those in health crisis and their families. Leathers grew up in a home that demonstrated loving people with food. Her mother was the “consummate entertainer.”

“My mother loved nothing more than having as many people around her table as she could and serving them delicious food. It wasn’t until I was grown that I realized other families didn’t dine on Lobster Newburg and Boeuf Bourguignon like we did at home,” Leathers said with a chuckle. “My father traveled a lot for work, but when he had clients visit him, he never took them out. They were invited home.”

Leathers’ sister moved to California with its abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables and began a vegan catering business after she realized dual income families were not taking care of themselves with food. Fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and protein sources have been shown to reduce inflammation, improve immune function, promote healing and provide fuel necessary to recovery.

This inspired Leathers, especially after she had her own health crisis that required her to eliminate gluten and dairy.

“Through that journey I realized how blessed I was to have people wanting to support my family,” she said.

But she couldn’t eat those delicious casseroles. So she began to play around with a menu partly based on her sister’s recipes. Such meals might even light the spark for an entire family to begin making healthy food choices, she thought.

“One of the things that we serve our clients every week is a nourishing, healing broth made with adaptogenic herbs known for helping the immune system,” Leather said. “Our summer harvest minestrone is popular. If we can expose a family, people from all economic backgrounds and places, to something they’ve never tried, for instance quinoa or wild or brown rice versus a white rice, and they like it, I think it’s an accomplishment. We’re influencing the next generation.”

Clients receive a free cookbook. Volunteer youth from the community work alongside adult mentors and an executive chef. Leathers said youth have been empowered knowing the impact they have on their community. Plus, they’re now making healthier food choices and the handwritten cards they include with meals are a hit.

“During COVID so many people were alone and couldn’t wait to receive the meals and those notes,” Leathers said.

Food can even affect mood. The Healing Meals Community Project was involved with a study that demonstrated how certain foods could reduce anxiety and depression.

“Not just the person in crisis, but everyone in that family is under stress,” Leathers said. “We make a connection. We talk about mindfulness. Making that connection is a huge piece to our puzzle.”

The ministry started with feeding cancer patients and their households, and food was free for the first three years. To keep the growing program sustainable, meals are now purchased based on a sliding scale that takes income into account. Families are fed three delicious and nutritious meals a day for three months, delivered by volunteer “Delivery Angels”

In the kitchen, the names of families to be served are posted on the wall.

“We make a circle, pause, honor, thank everyone and remember why we’re here,” Leathers said. “We think about them as we prepare, cook and package the meals and are very cognizant of the energy in our building focusing on kindness and joy. We want them to feel the love in every bite.”

To recommend a local cook from Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jeff Davis or Vernon parish, email or call 337-494-4072. The cook recommended does not need to be a professional restaurant chef. He or she doesn’t have to prepare healthy or “fancy” meals. This person can simply be your favorite cook or have a knack for making a certain dish or type of food that you appreciate.