Volunteers Provide Healing Meals to Sick Children and Their Families

By Briana Vannozzi

Stacey Antine and her team of volunteers are prepping a special holiday delivery — Healing Meals for ill children and their families, made with loving hands.

“Healing Meals is really a gift of love. My dad had cancer about three years ago and I’m a registered dietitian, my mom is a really good cook and it was really a challenge to make sure that he was eating nutritionally and keeping his weight up,” Antine said.

The customized, family-style meals are made then delivered to places where Christmas-like miracles are wished for year-round — pediatric cancer units. Today, a drop-off at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Paterson.

“Our families spend long hours here, long days here. Some of them can be here from 8 in the morning until 6 at night and when you get home, number one you’re tired and exhausted and you don’t feel like cooking. But for many of our families, they don’t have the time and sometimes even the resources to cook,” said St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital Social Worker Shannon Heffernan.

“As the patient, you have to keep your nutritional needs up. It’s a very stressful time whether you’re in chemotherapy or radiation. And then for the caregivers, they’re so focused on the patient that their nutritional status, their immune system is low and they can get sick,” Antine said.

The Rosello family received their first Healing Meal last June after 5-year-old Alanna began chemotherapy to treat her leukemia.

“It was actually a load off our shoulders only because we’re here throughout the time, throughout the day and when we get home we don’t really have the time to cook,” said her mom, Irma Rosello.

“We select meals that everyone loves to eat. So the chicken fajitas are the most popular. We don’t use an oil-based marinade, we use a cinnamon base, which helps with insulin regulation. We chose ginger snaps. Ginger is actually a really good anti-nausea, so it’s all these aspects of the nutritional aspect of the food,” Antine said.

These are foods Irma feels good about feeding her family?

“Yes and they taste really good. My kids are kind of picky when it comes to food and they love it,” she said.

Over the last three years, more than 10,000 homemade, nutritious meals have been delivered. They come at no charge. Packaged for a family of four with a side of love.

What does Alanna like about the lasagna?

“I like it with the beans,” she said.

Is it yummy?

“Uh huh!” she said.

Each recipe comes from Antine’s new cookbook. Nutritional values and ingredients are listed right on top. Most of the food is donated from Whole Foods of Bergen County. The chefs and volunteers? Their time is donated too.

“We have this amazing group of volunteers from both the Bergen Academy as well as our community volunteers from schools and HealthBarn families and we’re able to do this with transporting the meals to the hospitals,” Antine said.

“People are doing it out of the kindness of their hearts. You don’t want to feel like a burden to people, or pity, but you can tell it’s because they want to do it,” Irma said.

So mom and dad save their energy, where it’s needed most.