Thursday, November 12, 2009

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Delivering Help, Hope, and Joy

The Ellie Fund and its Wellesley Supporters Ease Cancer’s Sting

Wellesley Service League members Joanne Clark, Meg Foster, and Linda Spear

Three weeks after delivering her son, Anne Meisner of Natick should have been experiencing the delights of motherhood. Instead, the 28-year-old was told she had breast cancer.

“I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in January 2007, and in addition to our newborn, my husband Jeff and I also had a two-and-half-year old,” she recalls.

During the remainder of 2007, Meisner’s full cycle of treatment encompassed surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, which included daily trips into Boston for six weeks straight. “At the time, I was grabbing for straws, looking for something that could help us with the non-medical side of treatment,” she says. “I wondered how I was going to keep my house clean, care for my kids, and get food on the table when I wasn’t feeling well.”

Meisner’s internet search uncovered The Ellie Fund, a nonprofit organization based in Needham that provides free support services for women affected by breast cancer. Established in honor of Eleanor “Ellie” Popkin of Newton by her sons Jeff and Eliot, The Ellie Fund addresses the “quality of life” issues that arise when a family is impacted by cancer, including transportation to medical appointments, childcare, housekeeping, groceries, and meals. 

“We offer transport in the form of gas cards, taxis, or limo services free of charge,” says Gail Fine, Patient Services Coordinator at The Ellie Fund. “We also offer grocery cards for supermarkets closest to where recipients live, whether it’s Roche Bros., Market Basket, or Shaw’s. Similarly, we offer services for child and pet care.”

It was just what Meisner, and many others in the same situation, greatly needed. “I could see that The Ellie Fund was absolutely perfect for helping take the stresses of daily life off my plate,” Meisner says. “I immediately contacted them, and together we figured out what assistance I needed most. In my case, they helped with childcare, housecleaning, and meals through a program called ‘Dish and Deliver.’”

Wellesley, in fact, is the nexus of the innovative Dish and Deliver program. Supported by volunteers at the Wellesley Service League (WSL), and Healthy Habits Kitchen on Washington Street, the program is a wonderful confluence of a community-oriented business, citizens’ longstanding commitment to service, and friendships old and new.

Bringing it Home
The working trio of The Ellie Fund, the WSL, and Healthy Habits Kitchen, “is one of the most perfect symbiotic relationships we’ve seen,” says Connie Main, WSL’s president.

Two years ago, Main was chatting with fellow Wellesley resident Fine (who is also a member of the WSL) while watching their sons play baseball. “Gail told me there was an opportunity to make a connection between The Ellie Fund and the WSL, and we were able to marry the two very quickly,” Main says.

The Ellie Fund was looking for volunteers to help assemble and deliver freezer-friendly meals to patients and their families. As the two women talked, Main recalled reading something in the local media about a new kitchen coming to town. As soon as Fine got home, she Googled the reference, and discovered Healthy Habits Kitchen had just opened. With a phone call to the kitchen’s owner, Sue Schochet, the idea came into sharper focus.

“Sue was on board from the moment we phoned her, and literally, that day, we came up with a possibility of making the Dish and Deliver program a reality,” Main says.

Schochet, a Newton resident, had been laid off from her job in retirement planning, and after some soul-searching, decided she wanted to pursue a “passion” job. “There is a whole industry of meal assembly,” she explains, “but while it’s easy to get convenient food, it’s hard to get healthy food conveniently.”

Healthy Habits Kitchen, located in a 1,200 square foot space two doors down from Paparazzi Restaurant on Route 16, lets customers put a home-cooked meal on the table in no time. According to Schochet, “we do everything before you put it in the pan at home.”

Putting it All Together
Each month, WSL volunteers work in pairs at Healthy Habits Kitchen to prep and deliver meals to breast cancer patients and their families living in the MetroWest community and beyond. “Each meal serves four to six people, and we do these deliveries once per month,” Fine says. “For those who receive the meals—it’s not about whether they have money or not—both rich and poor get sick. It’s about the fact that women need to be focused on their treatment, and not have to think about meals or feeding their family healthy foods.”


It’s a sentiment echoed by Wellesley resident Kelley Tuthill, an investigative reporter for WCVB-TV and mother of two who also endured the challenge of breast cancer. “When I was diagnosed three years ago at 36, I was just getting into the rhythm of being a working mother. For the first time in your life, your kids take a secondary role, because if you don’t survive, you’re not going to be there for them. Getting the chemo and fighting the cancer is your number-one priority.”

Tuthill is devoted to helping The Ellie Fund through her annual “Kelley for Ellie” fundraisers at the Boston Harbor Hotel, using Channel 5 reporters and staff as models for a fashion show, and staging an auction. “We raised approximately $50,000 at this year’s event, which goes directly to The Ellie Fund. I learned firsthand about the challenges of cancer treatment. Even when you have the support of health insurance, your family, and friends, it’s still a tough road.”

Similarly, women who have been on the receiving end of Dish and Deliver are themselves eager to give back by coming to Wellesley to help prep and deliver food.

One of Dish and Deliver’s most dedicated volunteers is Meisner. “When I finished with my treatment two years ago, I really wanted to pay it forward and pay it back,” she says. “I’ve prepped meals to do what I can to bring a feeling of relief to another woman and her family who are going through the same experiences my family and I had.”

Marcia Boyle, a longtime resident of Wellesley and WSL volunteer, went through the challenge of breast cancer seven years ago. Like Meisner, Boyle is extremely appreciative of the help and support she and her family received from friends and neighbors while she was undergoing treatment. “What Dish and Deliver accomplishes is close to my heart: I can really understand what recipients of the meals are going through.” She has helped assemble meals and make the drive to a patient’s home. “Everyone is in the kitchen for the right reasons, and everybody’s heart is in the right spot,” she says.

Meisner adds: “It’s nothing short of awesome to go to Healthy Habits Kitchen and put together meals that a woman has picked out from a menu, and bring it to her house. In one particular case when I delivered the meals, I didn’t stay to talk to the recipient, but I certainly knew what she was thinking—‘thank goodness I have this supply of 20 meals in my freezer!’”

Fine provides a final perspective. “The Ellie Fund, WSL, and Healthy Habits Kitchen have become very entwined. Without the WSL volunteers, or our connection to Healthy Habits Kitchen, we simply couldn’t be achieving this.”

© 2009 Elm Bank Media