Cathryn Couch looks happy in the kitchen, even though it’s not her personal kitchen.
Ducking in and out of the big walk-in cooler at the headquarters of her meal-delivery service in Sebastopol, she brandishes packages of Alaskan cod and organically raised chicken, ready to heat and serve.
There are other organizations that take food to the needy, but these meals are meant for a very specific audience — those struck by cancer or other serious illness.
“When someone gets sick, the idea of quality food goes out the window,” said Couch, founder and executive director of the Ceres Community Project.
“The last thing a sick person wants to think about is food,” she said. “And in families, when one parent is ill, the other parent is too busy trying to hold everything together to think about shopping or cooking meals.”
Families fighting serious illness need help putting wholesome meals on the table, and at the same time, teenagers need to learn about choosing and making healthy food, she said.
The Ceres Community Project, a nonprofit service founded by Couch in 2007, combines support for stricken patients with training and experience for up to 450 young volunteers, ages 14 to 19.
“In the process of making these meals, the teenagers learn about healthy eating,” Couch said. “We’re also gearing them up to make a life-saving contribution to somebody else.”
The program’s Sebastopol center includes not only a full, restaurant-worthy kitchen, but also maintains an organic garden to grow its own vegetables.
Ceres uses hundreds of adult volunteer drivers, dubbed “delivery angels,” to take the food to the program’s clients, and “client liaison” volunteers communicate weekly with food recipients to make sure their needs are met.