The Revive & Thrive Project delivers free, nutritious meals cooked by teen volunteer gardeners and chefs for cancer support.
As you may know, Cygnus 27, a AAA 4-Diamond joint high atop the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel was my last gig of a 32-year long chefing career. That career spanned two continents and several 4-diamond resorts and restaurants in the continental U.S.
In August 2014, I transitioned out of a culinary career to dabble in the non-profit world. Making the career transition allowed me to concentrate fully opening the Absenger Cancer Education Foundation (ACEF) in Spring Lake. The move also provided the time necessary to complete the research project “Medical Hypnosis and Interleukin-1 Beta in Breast Cancer Survivors.”
I also joined the Board of Directors of the Revive and Thrive Project in Grand Rapids to offer my restaurant experience and healthy nutrition expertise to help launch the Revive and Thrive Project.
I am super excited to report that on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, the Revive and Thrive Project set a new standard for healthy eating in cancer support and chronic illness. Here is what Kay, a fellow board member of the Revive and Thrive Project, had to say about the occasion:
Our clients were served! I know that we have meetings and try to figure how to run a non-profit, but, there were results today. Kudos to all involved. Especially to the volunteers. We are making a difference, one meal at a time.”
Oh, yes! What a difference the Revive and Thrive Project is making right here in Grand Rapids in cancer support and survivorship care. ACEF and I are fortunate to be part of a non-profit model that could be very well “THE FUTURE” of healthy eating for cancer support and persons with chronic illness.
What makes the Revive and Thrive Project (RTP) Different?
- RTP provides teens with growing, cooking and healthy eating skills
- RTP seeks to educate the greater community about the powerful connection between food, health and local sustainable agriculture
- RTP’s nutritious and delicious meals are FREE of charge and delivered each week to people facing life-threatening diseases, such as cancer. Hint: RTP needs your financial support to keep the program free. Click here to be taken to RTP’s donation page.
- RTP provides cancer support by providing healthy eating options for families, loved ones, and caregivers because they are affected too
- RTP’s nourishing meals are made with whole, fresh foods that are local and organic when possible
- RTP’s ongoing healthy nutrition education empowers people to adopt lifelong healthy eating habits
- RTP is now involved in Mary Free Bed’s “Yoga, Food, and Friends” research project, written about here.
How does RTP’s Healthy Eating Program Work?
Adult mentors provide teens with fun and exciting experiential gardening and culinary opportunities. Teens prepare the beautiful, nutritious and delicious meals from the best healthy foods grown in RTP’s garden for clients. While doing so, teens develop valuable leadership and employment skills that encourage success at school and work.
As a part of RTP’s community, teens have the ability to make a positive impact while discovering the joy of giving back. RTP empowers our future leaders with healthy eating skills while promoting the connection between health and diet.
How do Clients Benefit from RTP’s Healthy Eating Program
Each client and their family receive four meals delivered once a week for 12 weeks, providing clients with healthy eating opportunities, while they are dealing with life-threatening cancer or chronic illness. Each family member receives:
- 1 quart of soup
- Four servings of salads
- Four complete entrees (protein, vegetable and side dish)
Based on need, five families were chosen as the recipients of the first 12 weeks of FREE RTP meals. The families’ backgrounds are as follows:
Family #1: Single Mom and 4 Children
Mom is a breast cancer survivor undergoing a rigorous treatment regimen that also included breast reconstruction. Here is what mom had to say:
The RTP’s healthy eating program will be helpful because I either don’t have the money to buy healthy food, or I just don’t have the energy to put into a healthy meal.
I am a single mother of 4 and I am only able to work part-time which does not bring a whole lot of money.
I feel guilty all the time because I cannot afford to buy the healthy food my children need. I feel guilty knowing that for my body to recover fully I need the nourishment my body needs, and I am unable to offer that to myself.
Family #2: Mother and Son
Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer this past fall. She is undergoing extensive surgical treatment as well as chemotherapy. This mom gave RTP the following feedback:
RTP’s healthy eating program will provide the necessary nutrition I need to continue my health and strength during my treatments
Often, if I do not feel well, I just don’t eat or eat poorly due to fatigue and time constraints
I look forward to being a part of this amazing program and then being able to give back after my recovery
Family #3: Mother and Son
Mom underwent multiple, extensive surgical procedures and chemotherapy.
RTP’s healthy eating program will help improve my health and long term nutrition education.
I cannot afford eating healthy, however, because of RTP’s program, I will be able to eat better and feel better.
Family#4: Mother and Son
Mom currently undergoes extensive surgery and chemo treatment.
I am hoping that eating healthy, nutritious foods will help to keep my white blood count up.
Not to mention the appreciation of having meals prepared for us as I return to work.
Family #5: Family of Six
Ten-year-old daughter has serious Stage 4 cancer. RTP is preparing meals for four people. Two children are young, and likely won’t eat the food.
What was RTP’s Inaugural Healthy Eating Program Menu?
For the official launch of RTP’s program, Jenny and I decided to keep the menu simple. Here is the menu our volunteers prepped from scratch, in only 4 hours, without ever working with each other before!
Soup: Zuppa Toscana with Italian Sausage and Kale
Entrée 1: Asian Noodle Stir Fry and Cauliflower with Cumin
Entrée 2: Baked Whitefish with Walnut Crust, Maple-Dill Carrots, and Roasted Potatoes
Entrée 3: Basmati and Wild Rice Pilaf with Mushrooms and Collard Greens, Side of Lentils
Entrée 4: Miso Glazed Chicken, Rice, and Roasted Asparagus
Salad 1: Kale with Lemon Dressing
Salad 2: Asian Slaw with Sesame Ginger Dressing
Two days later I am still amazed how people from different walks of life and totally different culinary backgrounds can create culinary delights for delivery to those who need them most. Why am I amazed?
What Exactly did the 4 Adult Mentors and the 3 Teen Volunteers Accomplish Today?
For starters, realize that the teen chef/gardeners and the adult volunteers never worked with each other before. Not to mention that we all worked together, creating healthy eating options for serious ill clients and their families in a kitchen none of us ever worked before.
The adult mentors and teen chef/gardeners started at 3 pm. By 7:30 pm we were all done packaging meals individually and had them ready for delivery to the homes of the five families (15 people total). On the first day of RTP we delivered:
4 Gallons of Soup: Zuppa Toscana with Italian Sausage and Kale
15 Entrées 1: Asian Noodle Stir Fry and Cauliflower with Cumin
15 Entrées 2: Baked Whitefish with Walnut Crust, Maple-Dill Carrots, and Roasted Potatoes
15 Entrées 3: Basmati and Wild Rice Pilaf with Mushrooms and Collard Greens, Side of Lentils
15 Entrées 4: Miso Glazed Chicken, Rice, and Roasted Asparagus
30 Individual Servings of Salad 1: Kale with Lemon Dressing
30 Individual Servings of Salad 2: Asian Slaw with Sesame Ginger Dressing
The meals are intended to give each family member four nutrient packed meals, giving those clients healthy eating opportunities where there none existed before. The result from this afternoon during which each the adult and teen volunteers provided 4 1/2 hours of volunteering?
4 Gallons of Soup
Bravo Ladies! Ausgezeichnet! Not too shabby for the first day!
RTP’s Inaugural Healthy Eating Program Volunteer Roster
- Megan Marshal
- Megan is attending Bachelor’s of science in Dietetics program at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti.
Adult Mentor Volunteers:
- Shelley Swift, High School Teacher, Lowell
- Lori Von Doxtater
- Maria Tornga
- Nicole Deblase, North Rockford Middle
- Lydia Bender, East Grand Rapids High School
- Julia Walsh, Catholic Central Grand Rapids
Delivery Angels Transport the Culinary Delights to Clients’ Homes
The inaugural run from Park Congregational Church to clients’ homes was made by:
- Jeanine & Paul Keenan
- Steve O’Neil
- Kristy LaFave
Who is in Charge of the Healthy Eating Program and RTP?
Wendy Borden: Executive Director & Nutrition Educator
Wendy Borden’s passion is to promote health through nutrition, fitness, and proper activities for leisure. Before entering nutrition education, Wendy received an M.Sc. in Recreation Administration. That is where she shared outdoor recreation’s positive aspects through youth development programs.
Wendy decided to pursue a career in holistic nutrition after discovering a need to teach healthy eating skills in those youth development programs. Wendy received her M.Sc. in Holistic Nutrition from Hawthorn University.
Mick Von Doxtater (Surfer Mick): Chef Services Director
Mick Von Doxtater (Surfer Mick) is a world traveler, instructor, fitness trainer and chef into whole foods. Mick is the co-founder of the RTP and trained at the Ceres Project. He brings his fabulous recipes and mentoring skills to RTP’s kitchen. Mick is also the lead chef for Gilda’s Club program. He is going to aid as needed at Park Church and helps with special events.
Jenny Bongiorno: Kitchen & Garden Manager
For the past seven years, Jenny has been passionate about organic farming and education. Jenny believes that food, good health, and a healthy environment go hand in hand. Jenny earned a BA in Public Relations from GVSU in 2006 and speaks Spanish fluently.
Jenny’s farming “re-education” began in Costa Rica, while taking a position for an off-the-grid farm named Punta Mona. While in Glenbrook, New Hampshire, Jenny started a youth farming program. She has grown food in West Michigan since 2010.
Jenny brings this vast experience to the Revive and Thrive Project’s Urban Garden, located near the intersection of Henry Street & Wealthy. With the help of teens, Jenny will be growing all of the herbs and fresh greens for RTP. Having the teens rotate between culinary work and helping in the garden is an important component of the Revive and Thrive Project.
Jenny is excited to play an instrumental role in the Revive & Thrive Project, being able to combine two of her greatest loves: Helping build a strong community and healthy, whole, fresh foods.
Chris Fehsenfeld: Lead Chef
Chris has been in the restaurant and catering business for 35 years. He has owned five restaurants and managed dozens. Most recently, he owned Skywalk Deli & Catering for 12 years. He is an excellent teacher and mentor. Chris will be joining RTP in June and will be the lead chef for RTP at Park Church.
Historic Landmark Donates Kitchen Space to Make RTP’s Healthy Eating Program a Reality
RTP’s meals are prepared at First Park Congregational Church located downtown at 10 East Park Place NE, Grand Rapids 49503. First Park Congregational Church provides the kitchen space and basic janitorial services FREE of charge to RTP. Thank you Park Congregational Church for your generosity.
How Can You get Involved in the RTP?
To learn more about the Revive and Thrive Project, to make a donation (awesome food is expensive, and money is always tight) or to find volunteer opportunities go to
- Alternatively, you can call 616-581-4103
The Revive and Thrive Project is a proud affiliate partner of the Ceres Community Project in Sebastopol, California. www.ceresproject.org
This article last updated on May 25, 2015 at 11:39.
The Absenger Cancer Education Foundation (ACEF) is a 501(c)(3) public charity. Your gift may qualify as a charitable deduction for federal income tax purposes. Please consult with your tax adviser or the IRS to determine whether your contribution is deductible.