Healthy Community Kitchen, a Madison-based nonprofit startup, is trying to bring good food into the homes of those who need it most.
The company brings organic, custom-made meals to people recovering from an illness or medical operation, giving them much-needed support at a time when it might be very difficult to cook nourishing meals.
Its Healing Meals Program went live in Dane County in 2016, and was able to deliver around 3,500 meals in its pilot year. If all goes well, Executive Director Rachel Wilberding expects to serve over 5,000 meals in 2017.
Wilberding, a former nutrition and wellness educator, sees food a little differently than most.
“Food is powerful medicine,” she told WisBusiness.com. “It’s more than just the number of calories you put into your body.”
And those struggling to heal from troublesome medical procedures or illnesses have a particular need for pre-prepared healthy eats, she says.
“When a serious illness hits your family, it can feel like life has gone off the rails,” she said at a recent meeting in Madison of 1 Million Cups, a national entrepreneurship organization. “Suddenly, you have no energy. Suddenly, you feel completely isolated from the rest of your community. Suddenly, food feels like a real chore, and depending on your illness, you have no appetite or a very limited diet.”
She pointed out this struggle affects families across the board, whether money is an issue or not.
“So the purpose of Healthy Community Kitchen is to try and step in and help alleviate some of these stresses, help you feel like your serious illness isn’t throwing your life off the rails quite so badly,” she said.
The program delivers up to 12 weeks of meals directly to clients’ homes, and it’s free for anyone with low to moderate income. Families with greater means are asked to pay $75 a week for the service.
It served meals between February and October of last year, and logged 4,500 miles driven by program volunteers in that time.
Wilberding attributes a part of that success to Ceres, the group’s affiliate partner. Healthy Community Kitchen is following the meal delivery model laid out previously by California’s Ceres Community Project.
“They’ve been serving meals for over 10 years now; they now serve two full counties and have had wild success with their program,” she said. “We are very pleased with that partnership.”
As a nonprofit organization, Healthy Community Kitchen is entirely reliant on grants and donations. It has received seed funding from the City of Madison, and was recently awarded a grant from the Madison-based Willy Street Co-op Community Reinvestment Fund, to launch educational programming later this year.
Even with successful bids under its belt, Wilberding says the company’s biggest hurdle is still funding — though just getting some more name recognition would help get the ball rolling.
“We’re new in town, and as we know, there’s a bazillion nonprofit organizations doing great work here in Madison,” she said. “So, I’m trying to figure out how to yell above the din.”
–By Alex Moe