Catastrophe Casseroles 101
While I was courting controversy on the web last week (who knew Halloween costumes was such a touchy topic?). In real life, I was being trying to be a helpful member of the mommy community.
I don't know if it's middle age or the times, but it feels like our lives are being touched by tragedy more often. These aren't the sad episodes of our past: of break-ups and job losses. These are the kinds of happenings that when you hear of them they shake you to the core of your being. And make you go home and look at your family with fresh perspective. (for a few minutes, anyway).
In the last six months I have had a friend diagnosed with breast cancer. She is a mom to a young family and has lived such a clean life that if you were going to make a list of the people that would never be touched by illness, she would have been on it.
And also a dad of my son's friend died suddenly this summer of an aneurysm, while the two boys were at camp. He had never been sick, just woke up with a headache and was in a coma hours later.
So how does my community respond to this? Just like in pioneer days, we cook! As soon as my friend was diagnosed in the spring. Someone got on the computer and sent an email asking for "cookers" -- over 50 people responded. The instigator, who is well known for organization skills and not so much for her cooking, set up a schedule where the family of five was delivered dinner five days a week. Each "cooker" only had to make a meal once every three weeks. There were other people who helped out with shopping and a backup list of people to make a meal.
The family who lost their dad has received dinner twice a week for the last three months and will keep receiveing until they can not handle another lasagna. And another friend asked the dinner club to make some food for her dad's funeral reception after he died suddenly and she felt overwhelmed.
The amazing thing about this is not just that people got together and cooked for families in need. But that it doesn't stop. My friend with breast cancer started getting meals before any surgeries or treatments, so that she could free up time and be with her family. And she started getting meals again this week because she is so wiped out physically and emotionally from recovery.
Those on the receiving end of the catastrophe casseroles say that while not every meal is met with enthusiasm, the idea that people care enough to take the time to shop, cook and think about them, makes up for any lackluster response from the kids.
Imagine not having to think about food at all for days at a time. Just knowing that the food was going to show up in the cooler on the porch would free up a lot of time and mental space. We started to joke that we were going to invest in a communal kitchen and all put coolers on our porch and wait for the meals to roll in...
The best part for me was feeling like I was doing something in situations where words were not enough. The giving of food is really elemental. It wasn't always easy or convenient but it felt good. And it was a good lesson for my kids too. They saw me doing something for someone else and hopefully, that worked its way into their self-centred little beings.
- If you are organizing a community dinner club, use a shared calendar on the web to pick the dates. My husband collapsed in laughter when he saw the 200 reply-to-alls it took to plan our ongoing dinner club. And he showed us the better way.
- One person has to take on the task of being the organizer so all questions get directed to her/him so the family is not deluged with questions
- Put a cooler on the porch and do not ring doorbell or knock. This is not a social call.
- If you are cooking for a family with lots of kids. Dinners with lots of components that can be separated are good. Make your own burritos, tomato sauces with veggies and meat on the side, stir-frys are all big hits.
- Making food that can be eaten immediately or frozen is also appreciated. As is food that produces leftovers for lunches (for parents as well as kids).
- Label the food and the ingredients for allergies/intolerances and risk-adverse
- I like to include at least one dessert and/or extras like homemade two-bite brownies for after-school snacks and lunches. Check to make sure that sweets are ok.
- Consider making your dinner club a permanent fixture. There is always a family in need and they will find you.
- Don't expect a thank-you or a call extolling your incredible cooking talent. These people have a lot on their plate.
How has your community helped out a family? Have you ever been on the receiving end of community support?