Karen H. lives in Chicago, Illinois. She describes her Edgewater neighborhood as the “Mayberry” of Chicago. Right before the birth of her oldest child, Karen’s husband had an aneurysm and was in the hospital for five weeks. “I did not have to cook for about 2 months, since all the neighbors brought food, including stuff to go into the freezer,” she told me. Now she is part of a neighborhood group which provides a “meal train” for anyone who has just had a baby. “That list has grown to over 700 families in the surrounding area. We have done several fundraisers to benefit local charities. The most popular was a cook book which grew out of all the great meal train meals.”
Sharing food with each other in times of stress is international. Sarah, an Executive Coach in Oxford, UK, says, “My friends supported me by inviting into their homes when the children were with their dad. [There was] nothing worse than having to face an empty house when my marriage fell apart. Sometimes it would be dinner parties–elaborate affairs that made me take a shower & smile & see the world. One of my favorite memories is laughing at Ruth and Ian’s house. [We had] a meal of gazpacho & Middle Eastern salads & lamb (her family is from Israel). We sat on stools around the island in her kitchen, inhaling ice cream from pints and talking about the challenges of in-laws. I knew then, that life would be better.”
Even people you don’t even know will step in to lend a helping hand. Karen O. had just moved to a new town in Tennessee. “I had a herniated disk within 2 months of living here and was confined to my living room floor! Before my injury I joined the local MOMS club. They set up a week of dinners for us the week of my surgery. More important than the food was the complete strangers that I could meet every day!”
Giving meals also teaches our children how to be kind and to help others in need. Karen C. lives in suburban Kansas City and is a blogger at Adventures of Cancer Girl. She writes, “From the time my daughter was a few months old until she started kindergarten, I belonged to a local moms group. There were about 50 moms in the group. One member was in charge of organizing meal delivery every time one of our members had a baby. …We could sign up for a specific day on our Meetup site and deliver our meal on the day we picked. Most were home-cooked meals (lasagna, casseroles, etc.), but I became known for always delivering a rotisserie chicken meal (with sides and dessert) from the grocery store deli. When I’d deliver the meal, I’d get to meet the new baby and chat with the mom for a while. I would usually take my daughter with me so she could feel like she was also helping out, and she always loved meeting the babies.”
Holly Spangler, an agriculture journalist at PrairieFarmer.com, says it wells when she writes, “Food is powerful, is it not? Not just for sustenance, though it handles that well, too. But for comfort for a grieving family, for a sick family, for a family that’s just had a baby. Our church, like a lot of others, specializes in delivering meals – a ministry, all in its own. Food as help and comfort is universal, so say my new Chicago mom friends, who report that their temples and suburbs do the same. Whether in the shadow of a high rise or down the dusty gravel roads of southern Illinois, food helps make it better.”
While providing a meal doesn’t take away the grief, doesn’t help the baby sleep through the night or provide an instant cure, a meal is a great comfort when a family is going through a stressful time. It’s not only the food that is comforting, it’s the knowledge that someone else cares and understands what you’re going through. That is comfort indeed.