‘Healing Meals’: Youth volunteers and parents help local families dealing with health crisis

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AVON -- A non-profit that serves the Greater Hartford area just celebrated its first anniversary. It is the Healing Meals Community Project.

"We cook 100 percent organic food for families going through a health crisis and our chefs are youth volunteers," said Executive Director Sarah Leathers, a mom of three, who adopted this idea from her sister, founder of a similar organization on the West Coast. "For the client in crisis, we do an immune broth that is 100 percent organic."

When one member of a family is sick, everyone suffers. For 12 weeks, the group serves them free or low-cost meals so that one thing is off their plate.

"We thought we’d serve about 4,600 meals in the first year, so to get to 6,600 was fantastic," said co-founder Ellen Palmer, a mother of two.

The success is a result of a passionate support system. Kim Morrison, owner of New England Pasta Company in Avon, donates the use of her kitchen every Saturday night.

"Why wouldn’t I?" she said. "It’s absolutely the right thing to do. It’ i just such a feel-good time in my store."

Half of the 160 volunteers are teens, earning community service while learning the importance of fresh food and the value of helping others.

"I’ve learned how to cut vegetables and prepare food I never thought I’d be able to prepare," said Maggie Maguire, a junior at Avon High School.

"If a youth is working on a shift, we don’t allow a parent to be on that same shift," said Leathers. "We want the kids to have a place to come that’s theirs."

Parents often become "Delivery Angels," bringing meals to families on Sunday mornings. Jill Ciment was a volunteer who became a client when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

"You don’t feel good, and then here’s this person with a huge smile. You go to open your meals and there are cards," she said, explaining that each meal includes loving, motivational notes, created by the teens. "I knew the love that went behind every meal that was made for me."

Healing Meals plans to extend its reach, widening the circle of care that benefits everyone involved.

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