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CERES COMMUNITY PROJECT’S YOUTH CHEFS MEET SURGE IN NEED

Youth volunteers (above) prepare meals for Ceres Community Project clients, under the guidance of local chefs. The nonprofit, serving very ill residents of Marin and Sonoma counties, saw its demand spike during the pandemic.

Founded in 2007, Ceres Community Project began with founder Cathryn Couch mentoring six teens as they prepared healthy meals for four families experiencing a serious health challenge. More than 1 million meals later, empowering youth and nourishing its neighbors facing the dual challenge of limited income and serious illness is still the heart of the organization’s work. Today, Ceres serves Marin and Sonoma counties from three kitchens and two organic production gardens in Novato, Santa Rosa and Sebastopol.

Ceres’ approach is multilayered, multidimensional and multigenerational. Youth are at the center of the program as the primary gardeners and chefs growing and preparing nourishing meals. Mentored by professional staff, adult volunteers and peers, these young people gain skills to be successful at school and work, develop leadership, become change-makers and discover the joy of giving back to their community.

Among Ceres’ unique qualities are its commitment to using only organic ingredients in meals, its service to clients of all ages and the fact that the organization offers meals for its clients’ family members. Ceres offers nutrition education classes for clients, volunteers and the community at large, and leverages its local work for a wider impact by training other communities to replicate its model. Organization leaders work to shape policy to make medically-tailored meals a standard part of healthcare interventions.

The pandemic expanded the need for Ceres’ services and it made significant changes to the organization to meet that need. Client criteria was widened to include those with chronic, not just acute, illness, added extra meals and grocery bags for people facing food insecurity and it dramatically expanded service to Latino and Spanish-speaking clients.

In 2020, Ceres went from serving 1,300 meals per week in January, to serving almost 5,500 meals a week in June, and while the pandemic has eased, demand for its meals has not. The organization is committed to continuing support for its Marin and Sonoma County neighbors who face multiple barriers to their health, including food insecurity, financial instability and living alone without family or caregiver support.

Overwhelming support from the community during the pandemic, and a $10,000 grant from the Giving Marin Community Partnership have helped Ceres sustain its core programs at its Marin County kitchen, developing leadership and community engagement for its youth volunteers, allowing the organization to continue providing nourishment and community connections during a time when food insecurity and isolation are most severe.

You can support Ceres’ efforts by volunteering or donating at ceresproject.org.

An adult volunteer, called a “delivery angel,” brings meals to clients
after they are prepared by young chefs in the North Bay. Giving Marin
provided a $10,000 grant to Ceres to support their work in Marin County.
~ Photos courtesy of Ceres Community Project

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