Courtney White is proof that devastating moments in our lives can sometimes inspire great ideas.
White is the founder of Culinary Care, a nonprofit organization delivering free meals to cancer patients and their families. The organization grew out of White and her family’s experience during her late father Barry’s final fight with the disease in 2006.
[pullquote]1 in 5 cancer deaths result from malnutrition. @CulinaryCare enlists restaurants to fight back[/pullquote]
“You come home from the hospital every night and you’re just exhausted,” White recalls. “But thanks to family and friends there was always a meal waiting for us. Sitting together at the end of the day as a family gave us something to look forward to.”
After studying communications at the University of Arizona, White returned to Chicago in 2011 and worked for a national wedding photography company. But on the side she was looking for a way to give more. She kept thinking back to those meals that meant so much.
“I decided I really wanted to be able to provide meals to families who were fighting cancer, but didn’t have the support system that my family had,” White says.
When she found there was no group already doing this, Culinary Care was born.
Courtney White, founder of Culinary Care, visits with a cancer patient during a meal delivery. The nonprofit has provided more than 4,000 meals for clients ranging from “families who don’t have a local support system, to individuals who simply cannot afford to eat.”
Today, Culinary Care works with a network of Chicago restaurants, including Maggiano’s, Doc B’s and Wildfire. Patients and families can request up to four deliveries, choosing from menus provided by the restaurants.
Culinary Care works with social workers and other medical staff for patient referrals. The only requirement is that they must be going through active treatment for cancer. Volunteers then deliver the meals to cancer centers at University of Chicago Medical Center, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Rush University Medical Center, University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System and NorthShore Health Care.
“It ranges from families who don’t have a local support system to individuals who simply cannot afford to eat,” White says.
The first meal was delivered in March 2013. The total meal count now exceeds 4,000.
The 26-year-old White now works full time with Culinary Care. She is constantly on the move, growing the organization. “My job is to make sure that everything we do is benefiting our patients. That every enhancement we make just makes their lives a little bit easier.”
Food plays an important role in fighting cancer: As appetite and energy are drained, one in five cancer deaths each year is a direct consequence of malnutrition.
White notes that food and nutrition play an important role when fighting cancer because one in five cancer deaths each year are a direct consequence of malnutrition.
“Between being too tired to prepare food and also losing appetite from treatment-related side effects, it definitely takes a toll on nutritional intake,” she explains. “Our goal is to continue building programs that reduce this statistic. Right now, the restaurant meals help please the palate and get patients excited to eat.”
White’s goal is to make Culinary Care a national organization. “Right now we’re just trying to get to the western suburbs,” she says with a laugh. But she has gotten inquiries about the program from interested parties around the country.
“It’s just been crazy to watch it grow and take on a life of its own,” White says. “I started it with my own story, but it’s grown well beyond that.
“Everyone has their own personal connection to cancer. It gives you a whole different perspective on your life when you get to help others.”