City of Angels
Kathie Heimerdinger and her “delivery angels” bring nourishing meals to cancer patients.
Meals 4 Health & Healing heimerdingerfoundation.com
It’s another ordinary Tuesday in Green Hills, but in the basement kitchen of Calvary United Methodist Church a small band of volunteers are working wonders. With smiles that never fade and a clear mission to motivate them, they tirelessly prepare and package dozens of healthy “super” meals to meet a deeply felt need: to nourish cancer patients throughout Davidson and Williamson Counties.
Chef Laura Rodriguez, who has written eight new recipes for the day’s work, pinballs from station to station as she cheerleads her helpers, most of whom are teens just learning to cook. Overseeing the proceedings is the program’s founder, Kathie Heimerdinger, smiling like a proud parent.
It’s hard to believe this highly efficient effort, called Meals 4 Health and Healing, is only three years old, but just this past December the organization delivered its 20,000th meal. Modeled after the Ceres Community Project in Sonoma, California, Meals 4 Health and Healing pair cancer patients with client liaisons who coach them in healthy eating and provide support as they undergo chemotherapy. Back in the kitchen, teenage volunteers learn culinary arts and nutrition science while they prepare dishes for the patients and their caretakers. Every meal delivered by the aptly named “delivery angels” includes a card signed by the staff and volunteers wishing them love and healing.
Like many nonprofits, Meals 4 Health and Healing’s story began with a loss. Kathie Heimerdinger’s husband, Mike, the former Offensive Coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, was diagnosed in 2010 with terminal cancer. To meet Mike’s doctors’ strict diet recommendations, Kathie dove into researching healthy eating habits, experimenting with new recipes and ingredients. Her resulting “immune-boosting” meals yielded remarkable results, not only in extending Mike’s life for months beyond the doctors’ hopes, but in quelling many of the unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy. When Mike passed away, Kathie and her children started a foundation in his memory, hoping that others might benefit from similar immune-boosting foods.
There is a growing body of research supporting Kathie’s understanding that what she calls “God foods”—nutritious foods free of pesticides, additives, and anything artificial—lead to profoundly improved health outcomes for those facing life-threatening illnesses. Nearly every client of Meals 4 Health and Healing reports higher energy levels and fewer side effects from treatment, along with greatly reduced health costs.
Lynda Davenport, a cancer survivor and former client of Meals 4 Health and Healing, shared that her doctors, though initially dubious about the program, were shocked by her responsiveness to treatment and minor side effects. She laughs as she remembers her client liaison, Robin Mizaur, explaining what “keen-o-wa” was, and (gently and diplomatically) pointing out how much sugar is packed into every bowl of Frosted Flakes. “Before starting the program, I don’t think I ever had a meal without starch. It’s the Southern way!” she says.
Today, Lynda eats—and enjoys—more fish, sea vegetables like kombu, and lots of kale. She even still uses the program’s Magic Mineral Broth, which is packed with essential nutrients. “My whole family eats totally differently after my twelve-week meal delivery... I’m a big believer that this is going to prevent my cancer from returning.” She feels wonderful.
Seeing the physical and emotional improvements in their clients makes it easy for the Meals 4 Health and Healing team to stay motivated. The feeling of meeting a tangible, urgent need in the community is a new revelation for most of the teenage volunteers, Kathie says. “Of the teens that come, many are touched by cancer; it is their way of getting involved, learning, and giving back. Most come in eager and willing to work, feeling like they can really help.”
Kathie and the volunteers cultivate an uplifting kitchen environment that complements the mission. As Kathie says, “Whatever energy is in the kitchen goes into the food, so we try to make the atmosphere fun and full of joy."