We all need to eat. Luckily, many of us never worry about where the next meal is coming from, or if we’ll be physically capable of preparing food for our family. But these scenarios are a reality for those battling cancer or poverty.
Doing their part to help those who are in this situation are two local women — both busy moms, wives, and former communications professionals — who abandoned decades-long careers to launch nonprofits feeding neighbors in need.
Krista Jones of Hopewell Junction, executive director of Sparrow’s Nest, says the seed was planted for her nonprofit in 2012 when several friends — all moms — were diagnosed with cancer. Her immediate response was to cook for them. Her simple act of kindness grew, and through word of mouth she learned of more families in need; in response, Jones gave up her 15-year career as news director for Clear Channel Communications to follow her calling. Sparrow’s Nest now provides two meals delivered once a week to families with caregivers or children with cancer that requires chemo, radiation, or surgery.
In 2017, Sparrow’s Nest anticipates feeding more than 600 people. To meet that need, it recently hired a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef and moved to larger facilities in Wappingers Falls. The expanded space allows for 36 cooks and 15–20 drivers.
“We’re supplying a simple meal, but for a cancer patient or caregiver this is huge,” says Jones. “It’s a meal they don’t have to worry about cooking or spending money on. And it gives them precious time saved in the kitchen to spend with their family.”
The Sparrow’s Nest slogan speaks its mission: “Because every nest should be protected.”
Tracie Killar founded South End Children’s Cafe
There’s action being taken in Albany, too.
The South End Children’s Cafe — which has offered free, weekday dinners to children ages 5 through 12 struggling with food insecurity, and their caregivers, since 2015 — is relocating “to our new, permanent Warren Street location,” says Tracie Killar, founder and director.
The larger facility includes a commercial kitchen and dining room. “Instead of having one seating, we can keep feeding children as they come in, from serving 60 now to feeding 200 people a night,” said Killar, a lifelong Albany County resident who was the communications director at Families Together in New York State, a children’s mental health advocacy agency, before starting the cafe. By the end of 2017, about 16,000 meals will have been served since the Cafe’s inception.
South End Children’s Cafe also offers after-school academic enrichment, mentoring, exercise, and participation in the arts. Meals are served on craft-paper tablecloths with crayons for coloring, battery-powered candles, and fresh flowers donated by a local florist.
“We run it like a restaurant,” says Killar. “The kids love helping to serve the milk and water, and the older ones love to help in the kitchen. Our families are asked to donate five hours of service a month, but they always do more.” It gives families who live in poverty a sense of ownership and dignity, she added.
Sitting down to dinner as a family not only strengthens relationships between parents and children, but “builds bridges in the community as well,” says Killar. “As we all come to the table together, we recognize that we have more in common than we are different.”
And just like any meal or family occasion, a special touch makes all the difference. “We present the meals with little extras so patients and their families feel the love. Love is healing,” says Jones, who mentions hand-dipped truffles as a recent treat.
Both groups’ efforts come at zero cost to their recipients, supported through grants, fundraising, and donations from the community and businesses.
One fundraiser occurred September 30: Sparrow’s Nest hosted Rock the Nest, a music festival with food, bands, and brews, in Freedom Park in Lagrange.
At the end of the day, when the dishes are done, Jones and Killar find great meaning in their endeavors.
“I’m very fulfilled,” says Killar. “It’s where I’m supposed to be.”
“For me,” Jones says with tears in her eyes, “it’s gut-wrenching at times, but it gives such a sense of purpose. When the food is delivered and you see the look of relief on their faces, it’s so worth it.”