Food shared is love shared. That is the belief of First Presbyterian Church of Martinsville’s newest ministry, Cooks Who Care (CWC).
Each month, CWC prepares 16 meals to deliver to members of the congregation if a need arises. The food is delivered in pretty packages wrapped with ribbon.
At every gathering of the cooks, the question is always asked, “Does anyone know of someone who needs a meal?” said Virginia Truitt, who is a CWC co-chair. The other is Judy Ware. Their committee of 30 has been working together since September.
It all began when Cindy Franck, a congregation member, spotted the idea in a magazine. Once she suggested it, Ware and Truitt were eager to get started.
The co-chairs began by researching similar ministries in other churches. Truitt found information online from a Columbia, S.C., church called Spring Valley Presbyterian Church. Spring Valley provided recipes and ideas and suggested how to transport the meals. “They were a huge help,” said Ware.
The most important element for CWC cooking is that the food freezes well. This is because the women prepare the meals at the beginning of each month, ahead of any requests, and need to store it safely.
The CWC includes the recipes with the delivered packages of food to alert recipients with food allergies or other health issues.
The members are compiling a master recipe book with recipes that have been successful for CWC. Each member of the committee has a copy of that cook book.
Each month, the group picks a head chef. Monica Stevens and her daughter, Laura Stevens, are the head chefs this month.
Last December, Monica’s husband and Laura’s father, the Rev. Randall “Randy” Stevens, passed away. He was the church’s pastor for nine years. Monica and Randy had two sons, Daniel K. Stevens of Richmond and the late Andrew C. Stevens.
For the selected recipes, the Stevens women, who live together in Martinsville, chose Randall’s favorite food: beef brisket. They prepared the brisket recipe at home before the group met.
“Nothing could make him salivate more than brisket,” said Laura, 33, of her father, who loved all of their cooking. One of his favorite things to come home to was the smell of Laura sauteing garlic and onion. Garlic is one of Laura’s favorite ingredients to use, too.
In addition to the beef brisket, the group made cheesy potato casserole and a cran-apple crisp. Monica and Laura normally pair the brisket with spiced apples, another favorite of Randall’s, but since the spiced apples do not freeze well, they opted to cook cran-apple crisp.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” said Monica, “Improvisation is the fun of cooking: taking what you have and making the best of it.”
Laura expresses the same inclinations as she regularly tests out recipes, then transforms them to suit her palette. “My mom has always called me a mad scientist,” she said. “I take away and add what I want and think would be good in the recipe.”
Laura is recovering from two transplants, for her kidney and pancreas. Since Monica works as an English teacher at Martinsville Middle School, she is gone during the day. Often Laura will start cooking their evening meal, and Monica will complete it when she gets home.
Monica has been cooking more than 50 years. She recalls being allowed into the kitchen to experiment with cooking as a child. She even still has her first cookbook from elementary school, the Arrow Book Club cookbook.
“Of course I had to try out the recipes,” said Monica. “Given the opportunity and materials, kids have the creativity and curiosity to do something.” Monica trusted Laura to succeed in the kitchen, too, sharing her craft with her daughter.
Laura has memories of baking cookies for congregation members at their family’s previous church. “We made zillions of Christmas cookies and put them in tins,” said Laura. They made chocolate chip, snowball cookies, spritz cookies and more.
CWC hopes to bring more cooks and their histories into the kitchen. CWC wants to keep growing with money and personnel, according to Ware. Before the group was started, the group held a fundraiser to sell desserts and casseroles made in the cooks own time and with their own money. The profits of this and some smaller church funds served as the start-up money for the group. With more practical support, the group likely will begin extending the “gifts” out to the rest of the community, said Ware.