Cottage Grove neighbors cook up hope for a local pantry


COTTAGE GROVE, Wis. (SPECTRUM NEWS) – A woman and her friends have raised thousands of dollars to feed the hungry, as she feeds her neighbors.

Like most of us, Loan Rathgaber went through a tough time in quarantine. She missed the human connection. “The first two weeks have been very depressing,” Loan said. “We are safe at home, we have food. But that doesn’t mean we’re okay. We’re fine, but it’s not Okay.”

Loan and her friend Michelle Hartner had an idea: Loan would cook meals and “sell” them to their neighbors for a donation to the local pantry. “People had to eat anyway,” Loan said. “It’s a moment of sharing.”

Their neighbors were on board right away. “I told people hey, I really want to dedicate my cooking to you,” Loan said. “If you want to do this with me, if you like my food, we do it together, and instead of paying me, you’re going to help the pantry.” Many pantries were flooded during the pandemic.

Loan prepares 25 to 30 meals from scratch for his neighbors every Tuesday night. Meals need to be booked in advance, and they sell out quickly. “My culinary philosophy is that food is meant to be tasty, generous and happy,” Loan said. “It’s like from my kitchen to their house.”

One evening the three different meals were Vietnamese fried chicken, Puerto Rican chicken, and vegetarian couscous. His food is beautiful, full of colors and textures. “Some of the foods I never expect people to try or kids to eat. Good food is good food. Taste doesn’t lie, ”she laughed.

As you approach the Rathgaber House, you can smell the cuisine of Loan half a block away. Although they have a contactless collection system, normally neighbors linger on Loan’s lawn or porch and catch up. Sometimes it’s the first time they’ve been in contact with someone outside of their home in days.

“The suggested donation is $ 10 per serving, but people are generous,” Loan said. “People just gave more than the suggested donation, which is wonderful.”

When May turned around, the neighbors mobilized. Each week, one of them would pay Loan’s $ 100 grocery bill. “They came out and said I was sponsoring your kitchen this week. It’s incredible.

A sponsor of the week said it was obvious. “Can that $ 100 turn into $ 400?” And on top of that, the night we had it, after staying home all day and not having to cook? No dishes, no nothing!

They have now raised nearly $ 5,000 for the Cottage Grove Food Pantry and for a scholarship fund. “Thank you,” said Kathy Stapleton from the pantry in Loan, across the porch from Loan. You can tell if we weren’t in the middle of the pandemic they would be hugging each other. “It’s just remarkable.”

Then something else started to happen. Neighbors have started sharing photos of their families eating Loan’s meals to the Meals with a Purpose Facebook group. “They sit and eat together, they prepare the table, they put the flower on, they play music,” Loan said. “Good food can boost people’s morale. “

They had found a way to feel a little more connected to each other and to share an experience together from their separate homes. “We can’t bring people over to the house, have a drink or have dinner,” Loan said. “But I can still cook and take it out here, and people will always come.”

“If you love people, cook for them,” Loan said. “Good food makes you happy. And maybe that’s why I cook.

Loan wants to encourage everyone to do the same for their neighborhood. “You don’t need 1,000 friends on Facebook. All you need is a bunch of good friends who support everything you do, who care. And come together. Ten families, 20 families, everyone cooks 1 day a week. Think about how much money we can raise.

For more information on meals with a purpose, click here.

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