At Fill the Freezer, Food is Love

At Fill the Freezer, Food is Love

Rebecca Cook (R) and her daughter, Emma, at Fill the Freezer 2018.

October 29, 2018

Written by Katie Kuhn, United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County

For Rebecca Cook, a senior attorney at ManpowerGroup, and her daughter Emma, volunteering is a part of life. For the past two years, they have taken part in a fun and delicious project with United Way and both agree it’s one of their all-time volunteering highlights. 

United Way’s Fill the Freezer is an annual event that brings professional chefs and community volunteers together to prepare and pack freezer meals for local families in need. All meals are prepared in one day at MATC’s commercial kitchen, then distributed to family-serving nonprofits like The Cathedral Center, Sojourner Family Peace Center, and others.

This past September, Rebecca, Emma, and 62 other volunteers joined 8 chefs to prepare a total of 351 freezer meals. Rebecca and Emma were paired with Chef Josh Vanbibber of EasterSeals Southeast Wisconsin, who – in his day job - provides immersive, hands-on training for adults with disabilities to prepare them for jobs in the food service industry.

“Chef Josh shared with us that he chose a meal his mom used to make,” recalls Rebecca. “She was a single mom and made their family comfort food dishes which was something really special to him and his siblings. He wanted to pass on that feeling of comfort and togetherness that this meal had always brought him.”

The dish, fondly called ‘Lauren’s Party Potatoes,’ “looked and smelled DELICIOUS,” said Rebecca. “Chef Josh specifically designed it so you would get pockets of melted cheese, and emphasized that it was a recipe you could add anything to - jalapenos or hot sauce, extra veggies, crumbled potato chips on top, even scrambled eggs to make it a breakfast dish!”  

Rebecca, Emma, and their volunteer group were put to work opening cans, chopping, mixing, and measuring. As they cooked, the group got to know each other and Chef Josh. “We had a great group that talked a lot and asked a ton of questions. Chef Josh shared his background moving from a fast-paced kitchen to his experience truly serving people with EasterSeals, and his intention for this dish to be something that anyone could make with simple, low-cost ingredients.”

Emma is a high school student at Wisconsin Lutheran, and spends a lot of her time volunteering. “This is one of her favorite projects of the year,” said Rebecca. “The morning of, she sprang out of bed because she was so excited to go.”

“Every time you volunteer you learn something, and learning to cook is so valuable,” said Rebecca. “The other cool thing about the project is how it changed our view of chefs – they are not just people who make your food in a restaurant. They are thinking about how people will eat a meal, how they will enjoy it, how they will feel. It really is love.”

Feeling inspired? Find your perfect volunteer opportunity.

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