By Joyell Nevins
For the Weekly Record Herald
TIPP CITY — Peanut butter and jelly. Bert and Ernie. Mickey and Minnie. Salt and pepper. Some things just go better together — like Pink Ribbon Girls and Scratch Food. The nonprofit support system for breast cancer fighters and the catering company have come together to bring home comfort to families under crisis.
“Having the meals delivered every Friday provides a simplicity to our rather chaotic world,” said Jaimee Maier Francis. “On days when we are scrounging to have time to eat dinner before getting our kids to practice or games, these meals solve those issues.”
Francis is currently in treatment for breast cancer. She has completed 16 rounds of chemotherapy and is now undergoing radiation treatments. Her family is one of approximately 80 families that receive 900 weekly pre-packaged meals from Scratch Food through Pink Ribbon Girls (PRG). The meals are flash frozen and packaged in individual portions, so the family can use them as needed.
PRG’s motto is “No One Travels This Road Alone.” It was started by two breast cancer survivors to provide support in the seemingly mundane aspects of life — transportation, house cleaning, cooking, etc. PRG’s mission is to “balance the fear and uncertainty that breast cancer brings to individuals and families by providing direct services, education, and support” — and one of those direct services is meals for the family.
“We want them to know someone that loves you is giving you a meal,” PRG Director of Marketing and breast cancer survivor Diana Featherstone said. “We want it to be healthy and healing.”
These aren’t your average TV dinners, either. Matthew Hayden, president of Scratch Food, continually studies nutrition and health specifically related to cancer patients to know what to prepare.
“Most mainstream frozen meals are not nutrient dense and they’re calorically restricted,” Hayden said. “I want to prepare foods that quit inhibiting your body’s healing process.”
“Matt does a great job in research as to what cancer patients need nutritionally,” Featherstone added.
Hayden and his staff veer away from processed foods and starches and instead use a lot of whole grains and vegetables in the packaged meals. Hayden notes that freezing stops or crawls biological activities, so there is still life in the food when it is thawed.
And it’s important to Scratch Food and PRG that the meals taste good, too. Chicken parmesan, orange chicken with rice and broccoli, corn and black bean salsa all make the grade.
“My kids are picky eaters and they really like the meals. They do a good job of sending a variety and really balancing them out,” Francis said.
Breast cancer survivor Pat Korengel agreed, “I’d die for his food; it is so good.”
Featherstone notes that “Chef Matt” is something of a “celebrity among our patients.” Staff from both Scratch Food and PRG have seen how important food is to the body and the soul. Patients and survivors have written Hayden letters and sent him chocolates to offer their thanks.
“I meet patients, they tear up, I tear up,” Hayden said. “PRG’s tagline is “Simply Fight.” And after meeting them – ok, now I get it.”
Although Hayden’s career path has included clinical psychology and the environmental industry, he said he always had an “aptitude for food.” Up until he was 8 years old, Hayden was extremely allergic to many foods and had a very limited menu.
“Since then, I’ve spent the rest of my life catching up,” he quipped.
Hayden said his father traveled internationally for work, and often brought home cuisine from the different countries he visited. Plus, Hayden had neighbors that would take him on special outings to some of the best restaurants in Ohio, like King Cole.
“By the time I was 13, my favorite foods were lobster and artichokes,” Hayden said.
Hayden and his family owned several different restaurants before 2010, when they sold everything and Hayden purchased an unassuming space in Centerville to cater from. However, that space used to house a franchise that sold individual meals – and people kept coming to the front door asking to buy a meal to take home.
“After a few months, we thought ‘we should pay attention to this’,” Hayden said.
He and his staff got together a pilot group to test of the waters of preparing ready-made meals and formed another arm of the company called “Meals from Scratch.” Then he got a call from his friend Jenny Lewis, who happens to be the president of PRG’s board of trustees. At that point, PRG volunteers were delivering groceries to people’s homes, but wanted to do more.
“It began with Heather (Salazar, PRG executive director). She said ‘people are delivering groceries, why can’t we ship meals in a box?’” Hayden said.
After much experimentation and evolving, Hayden and his staff have got the cooking and packaging down to a streamlined process. In 2013, Scratch Food and PRG shipped 10,250 meals. In 2014, that number jumped to 35,000 and included homes from northern Kentucky to northern Miami Valley. But Hayden notes, they don’t want to get too comfortable!
“It’s a continually growing process. The minute we say we’ve got this licked, that’s a bad attitude,” Hayden said. “We’re gearing up for when (PRG) goes ok, we’re shipping to Texas!”
Want to help?
PRG pays professionals to clean houses, provide transportation and cook the meals. But they are continually seeking volunteers to help with fundraising events and office support. To volunteer or donate your time, services or funds, visit www.pinkribbongirls.org or call 937-350-6767.
PRG offers free services and support to cancer patients, including healthy meals, housekeeping, transportation and peer support. Eligibility for these services is not income based. If you are in need of help and support, give them a call or fill out the request form on their website.