By Tanya Henry
“The love part is critical,” says Cathryn Couch, founder of the Ceres Community Project, whose mission statement reads, “We create health for people, communities and the planet through love, healing food and empowering the next generation.”
This year, the nonprofit that depends on teen volunteers and huge community involvement, will provide around 95,000 organic, locally sourced meals to folks with health challenges in Marin and Sonoma counties. Growing exponentially, Ceres expects to provide 1, 280,000 meals in the next eight years—nearly four times as many as they have provided since Couch began the program out of a community church in Sebastopol in 2007.
Not only does this important program provide nourishing food to those most in need, but it empowers young people both in the kitchen and in their communities. Ceres’ teen volunteers, who learn to cook, make deliveries, help prep and raise funds for the program, are between the ages of 14 and 19, and come from 80 different schools in the region. Experienced cooks mentor youth in the kitchen, and “Delivery Angels” pick up the prepared meals every Thursday evening.
Couch, a self-described chef, entrepreneur and activist, provides many of the recipes for Ceres. In 2010, along with JoEllen DeNicola, she published the Nourishing Connections Cookbook: The Healing Power of Food & Community. The book offers more than 100 of the organization’s favorite recipes “home tested by people living with serious illnesses.”
As the organization continues to expand (there are now three kitchen sites in Sebastopol, Sonoma and San Rafael—with one more opening in January in Santa Rosa), Couch is mindful about the growth of Ceres. “Including the word ‘community’ in our name was very intentional—we want more people to be involved and have a stake in the program, but we also want to keep the intimacy as we scale,” she says.
When asked why the word “love” was included in their mission, Couch explains that it was their clients who taught them of its importance in their program. One client expressed it this way: “It’s one thing to have my family cook for me, but to have people who don’t even know me—it makes me feel like the whole community is cooking for me.” Mission accomplished.
The next teen volunteer orientation is on Wed., Nov. 18 from 5-6pm at the Ceres Marin Kitchen; 4308 Redwood Highway, Suite 100; San Rafael; ceresproject.org/marin.