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Spreading Home-Cooked Love

Written by Melissa Pasanen on . Posted in Taste of the Landscape

A long time ago far away from Vermont, my husband was working the Christmas shift and I wanted to find something useful to do with myself. I remember naively calling some shelters and volunteer organizations only to be told, politely, that they were quite overwhelmed with offers of help around Christmas but could really use volunteers in February or July. I did eventually find an emergency kitchen that needed help serving a holiday meal and I still vividly remember one young family with a toddler, so appreciative of the hot meal and wrapped gift for their child.

Once our kids were old enough to help, we made this into a family tradition, including our two sons to help make food for a holiday meal offered on Christmas Day in the Old North End. For several years we’d all sit around and peel carrots, beets, turnips and parsnips for maple-roasted root vegetables; one December, we bagged up more than 100 gift packages of homemade granola. This year we cooked and delivered chili, from-scratch cornbread and creamy coleslaw for 40 to the Committee on Temporary Shelter’s Burlington location at the end of Christmas week. The meal featured many locally grown ingredients thanks to generous farmers who were happy for an opportunity to get their fresh, Vermont food out into the community. Delivering the meal and seeing the people who would eat what they’d helped cook made an impression on my teenage boys and a friend who also participated.

And yet every December, echoes of those requests for help in February still bounced around my head, but I always felt too busy or distracted by other community projects to go beyond the holiday cooking effort. This year, though, a perfect opportunity from COTS presented itself and I’m finally committing to making the time to help once a month, year-round, rather than just at the holidays. It’s a much smaller effort, making a small group dinner for a Wednesday night meeting, so I can basically just double a meal I’m already making for my family one day a month.

Cooking is something I enjoy, but feeding people is what I love, so why not spread a little home-cooked warmth around?

A good place to start looking for food-related (and other) volunteer opportunities is your local United Way. For example, United Way of Chittenden County’s Volunteer Connection page lists opportunities from cooking meals at the Winooski Teen Center to delivering Meals on Wheels in a few different towns.

Melissa Pasanen

Melissa Pasanen

Contact Melissa Pasanen at and follow her on Twitter at

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