A Warm Gift on a Cold NightDecember 20th, 2011 © by Susan Swartz
The day’s Ceres menu included sole with spinach, shitakes and goat cheese. And lentil soup with beets and coconut milk. Food designed to lift the spirit as much as provide healthy nutrients to bodies that need some special tending.
The meals that went out that night and every week, delivered to homes throughout Sonoma County, were created by volunteer teenagers in white smocks, guided by volunteer professional Wine Country chefs. Hopefully the kids also get hooked on eating local and organic and understand why slow food trumps fast food. Then there’s the bonus of being part of a community doing something nice for others.
Those being people who have cancer or other serious illness, who need to eat as healthy as possible but whose palate may be off from strange new meds and whose families have other priorities than creating something enticing in the kitchen.
This is the Ceres Community project, which teaches young people to cook nutritious inspired meals for sick people and which is becoming a national model for food programs around the country. The Ceres kitchen is in my neighborhood, housed in a bright new building painted spinach green with carrot colored trim. But I never got inside the operation until the other night when I accompanied my husband, who started driving for Ceres after a sick friend joined the list of clients.
It was one of those cold inky black nights when you’re glad for a car with a good heater and a radio with a strong classical music station. Lovely aromas came from the back seat. I guessed it was the soup. Ceres operates year round but given the season it felt like the best thing to be doing, taking very fine food to very important regular people who are not out doing the eat, drink and be merry thing. Someone had also donated fresh wreaths with red ribbons to be included with some deliveries.
We drove down the highway against the commute traffic, remarking on how many years we had been part of that string of slow moving impatient drivers. With our gift bags of food we crept through unfamiliar neighborhoods twinkling with reindeer and Santas, trying to read obscure street numbers.
They were waiting. One woman introduced her grandson and we talked about the charm of two-year-olds. Another, her smiling face framed by a knit cap, seemed as thrilled to see the wreath as the meals. She hadn’t done much decorating, she explained. This was her chemo week.
You can’t help but wonder how you would be if everything changed and you were trying to keep the holiday spirit, do the tree, wrap presents and imagining what the new year might deliver. Is it harder to be sick at Christmas? Does it feel like a milestone to reach another holiday?
I never did much volunteering when I was working full time. People who do say that it provides a sense of satisfaction and purpose and helps balance your karma. It’s a reminder that even if you can’t solve global problems or what’s going on in Washington you can do one more thing for your community. And trust that when you need a kindness, a neighbor will knock at your door.
We drove home with the empty containers from last week’s delivery. My gloves smelled like Doug fir. We took the back country route and some forest creature – maybe a fox or a coyote – darted across our headlights. I took it as a sign of grace.