Culinary Care provides hot meals for cancer fighters and caregivers when they need them most—during a long day at the hospital.
It’s a warm day in early April, and Courtney White has just stepped inside of Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!, a popular tapas restaurant in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. White is the founder and CEO of Culinary Care, a Chicago-based nonprofit providing free meals to cancer patients and their loved ones while they undergo in-hospital chemotherapy.
At the restaurant, White picks up bags of prepared meals to be delivered that day to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. On any given week, White and her small team of full-time and part-time staffers deliver around 30 to 40 meals to people of all ages, races, and socio-economic classes. Today, she has about five deliveries.
For White, her organization is more than just a way to give back. In 2006, White lost her beloved father to lung cancer. Friends and loved ones dropped off meals for White and her family while they grieved. The gesture took one more burden off of the family’s shoulders, something White never forgot. Seven years later, Culinary Care was born.
Most people don’t receive a meal from the hospital when they are considered outpatient, even if they’re at a facility for up to 15 hours in a single day. Finding a solution to this problem has been difficult in the past. According to a study from the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, malnutrition is one of the most common side effects of cancer treatment and can affect up to 80 percent of patients depending on tumor type and stage. A 2015 study also reported nearly 20 percent of all cancer deaths are the result of malnutrition.
It’s an issue that White didn’t initially anticipate. “I just want[ed] to be able to provide the same support that my family had, and so it started off that simple,” White says. “It was just more surprising to learn there’s a much bigger problem that we can work to potentially solve.”
Come rain or shine (or sub-zero Chiberia temperatures), Culinary Care will be there to deliver meals. Customers can place their requests on an app and track the progress of their delivery in real time. Participating restaurants include Blue Door Farm Stand, Chicago q, the Goddess and Grocer, and many others. Since 2013, Culinary Care has delivered around 9,000 meals, but their goal is to deliver 100,000 by their 10-year anniversary in 2023. They also hope to fulfill requests in other cities, which range from coastal players like Los Angeles and New York to the deep south of Alabama and as far away as Canada and India. “We’ve put the foundation in place to get us there,” White says.