Nonprofit brings free meals to patients battling cancer

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Bonnie Hoke, 68, is sitting down to lunch courtesy of Courtney White and her six-year-old nonprofit Culinary Care, which brings beautiful restaurant meals to cancer patients and their caregivers while they're undergoing treatment, for free, for as long as treatment takes.

"At this point, when you're going through chemo, appetite is back for a couple of weeks and when you were feeling pretty good, have to sit here and start thinking about doing all this again," Hoke said. "And then they bring you this beautiful meal - at least I hear it is."

Hoke had a double mastectomy in May and genetic testing showed she's susceptible to future cancers. As such, she's elected to undergo an aggressive course of chemotherapy. She said Culinary Care gives her the strength, along with family, to fight.

"That's why they call it comfort food," she said. "They give you this beautiful menu and I was picking healthy grilled chicken salad."

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Chicago-based nonprofit Culinary Care brings cancer patients in the area free meals from local restaurants for the duration of their treatment.



Smiles in the midst of pain are what White lives for. They remind her of her dad, who passed away from cancer in 2006 at the age of 58, unrepentant for a life well-lived. Barry White was an energetic lawyer with a zest for life.

"Dad was someone who was just going to have food to get through the day, he was going to eat a meal, it was going to be an experience, it was going to be something he wanted to enjoy," White said. "So taking all the components and doing something to honor his memory and make sure everyone could eat it and just have that experience he loves so much - most of my memories of him are centered around food, so that is what we just wanted to bring to other patients."

There are some 350 patients currently on Culinary Care's roster, which delivered 3,500 meals last year, often out of the kitchens of Doc B's in River North. Doc B's is one of 30 restaurants partnering with White to prepare sumptuous meals for folks in need.

"Craig, our owner's father, passed away from brain cancer," said Brian Wright, vice president of culinary at Doc B's. "Craig went through these challenges with his mother, and we want to make sure that people can continue to give back and do the right thing."

"It's a win-win," he added. "We feel like a million dollars when we are doing this it is the right thing to do, we put our heart and soul in it every dish that we do and we want to make sure that it goes right to that family."

Calla McLaughlin's mother Roni Scheller was one of those recipients. The vivacious 58-year-old died from ovarian cancer in January. She lived three years after her diagnosis, a long time for that kind of cancer, and her daughter said Culinary Care helped create those extra days.

"Being able to be happy and having those things to look forward to really did help out," she said.

In lieu of a funeral, Roni wanted a fundraiser held for Culinary Care. Even with science improve the outcomes for cancer patients yearly, the holistic aspect of cancer care in the form of a warm meal is invaluable.

"This charity coming up with this idea and providing food makes it easier for the patients, helps them be strong during treatment and has a big impact," said Dr. Leonidas Platanias, director of Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "It helps patients cope better with cancer, it gives them something they need at a specific time, and also it is good for the patient to feel that somebody cares about them and it brings their morale up, so it is a great thing."

"As soon as someone finds out you have had breast cancer they are like different people they are much more outgoing they want to do anything for you there," said Hoke. "It's just amazing."

"Eighty percent of patients coming in to get treatment have some form of malnourishment," White said. "It seems to be a really easy thing to forget in your day-to-day life, so we just want to make sure patients are getting through the day with a good meal that they have the strength to fight and continue to move forward."

Click here for more information about Culinary Care.
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