GENEVA – Standing side-by-side in a bright kitchen, 16-year-olds Stephanie Condon and Amy Haboush worked to prepare two soups full of fresh, nutritious ingredients.
“We’re soup buddies today,” Amy said, chopping an onion.
She and Stephanie regularly cook in the Roquette Innovation Center kitchen in far east Geneva. As volunteers for the Fox Valley Food for Health Project, the Geneva High School juniors are among other teens who together prepare a week’s worth of meals for medically challenged patients and their families.
“We really wanted to get the kids cooking,” project co-director Susan Leigh said. “They’re really learning how to eat well, too.”
Leigh, who trained at Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland, said Fox Valley Food for Health dishes up meals packed with as many vegetables and organic ingredients as possible. Providing nutrient-rich meals to cancer patients – who account for many of the project’s clients – is important because malnutrition is a common problem among them, co-director and dietitian Mary Fremgen said.
When you’re ill, Fremgen said, “You need all these nutrients.”
The Fox Valley Food for Health Project spends about $400 to $500 a week on food, the co-directors said. It has enough money for about the next four months, they said, noting the project has been supported by local businesses as well as a grant from Cadence Health.
Many of the recipes come from the Ceres Community Project in Sebastopol, Calif. – the organization Fox Valley Food for Health is modeled after and was trained by last year, Leigh said. That organization has delivered about 150,000 meals in about five years, she said.
By the end of this week, Leigh said, Fox Valley Food for Health will have delivered about 730 to 740 meals in the last six weeks.
Chris Schmidt, who is undergoing treatment for Hepatitis C she got from a blood transfusion, is among the recipients. The St. Charles resident and her husband have received meals since late last fall, she said, describing the program as a lifesaver.
“The crew has made sure that we had dinners on the table when I was unable – either too sick or too tired – to do it myself, and making my husband carry that responsibility day after day made me feel even worse,” Schmidt said in a testimonial for the project.
Clients, who are received by referrals or direct contact, receive 12 weeks of free food, Fremgen said. They are reassessed at 10 weeks and, if everything is going well, they come off the program, she said.
A handwritten sign in the kitchen lists the set of principles guiding the project. They address teamwork, responsibility, positivity, honoring commitments, maintaining a caring and welcoming environment, helping where help is needed and putting passion and love into the food.
“Our work is heart centered, loved based,” the sign states.
Schmidt can attest to that. She said she’s become friends with the volunteers, including the man who delivers her meals, and she has exchanged cards with the students.
“I can’t say enough about these people,” Schmidt said.
Monday, six students carried out their assigned tasks as aromas of various foods filled the kitchen and empty cans of ingredients began cluttering the countertops. Amy and Stephanie stood opposite each other as they stirred their pots of soup.
“Is your arm tired?” Amy asked her friend.
St. Charles resident Jack Creamer, who supervises the teen cooks, peered into the steaming pot of mushroom barley soup and chatted with the girls.
Creamer – who trained at the Culinary Institute of America in California after retiring from an executive position at McDonald’s Corporation – teaches the teens cooking techniques as well as other food-related topics, such as proper food storage.
He’s been with Fox Valley Food for Health since the beginning, he said, noting he didn’t think twice about volunteering. One of his friends receives the meals, he said.
“She’s very appreciative,” Creamer said. “They all are.”
Geneva High School culinary arts instructor Kathy Jankovic also appreciates the opportunity Fox Valley Food for Health is giving her students. Not only are they learning and applying their skills at both places, she said, but they are also giving back to their community.
“It’s important for them to see what’s going on beyond the classroom,” Jankovic said. “It’s a great situation for us.”
Donations may be sent to Fox Valley Food for Health, P.O. Box 532, Geneva, IL 60134.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Fox Valley Food For Health Project on Facebook for information.