When he was just 18 years old, Marvin Ware joined the Navy as a cook, and spent the next 15 years preparing meals for 500 people every day. “Before that, I was cooking for seven younger brothers and sisters. I was born knowing how to cook,” said Ware, now 61.
Today, he loves to prepare meals for his family and considers his specialties chili beans and hot wings. Ware lives at Hope Manor II, a subsidized housing development for veterans in Englewood, and one of the Food Depository’s many partner locations.
Every month, we provide 90 Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) boxes to the residents who qualify, part of an FDA program for low-income older adults. Each box contains shelf-stable foods, such as pasta or rice, canned vegetables and fruit, peanut butter, oatmeal or other cereal, dry milk and canned meat. The boxes help provide for older adults who are struggling to support themselves on a fixed income.
“The veterans love these boxes,” said Lauren Hightower, Client Support Service Coordinator at Hope Manor II. “It really helps them.”
About a year ago, after noticing that many of the veterans didn’t know how to cook, Hightower began teaching a monthly cooking class using the food from the boxes. She buys any additional ingredients, such as spices, at a local dollar store. So far, she’s taught her students how to make salmon fried rice, chicken noodle soup and hamburger mac and cheese.
“I started showing them basic, quick meals, and healthier options. It’s really nice to see them enjoy it,” Hightower said. “They feel proud of themselves because they put work into making the meal come together.”
For her, the cooking class is a small way of giving thanks to the veterans. “It feels good to give back,” she said.
“I like that I found a way to help them feel thought about and like they still matter, and that their service still matters.”
Ware feels that appreciation and says the classes make him feel seen and cared about. “It makes the heart stronger,” he said of the class. “When you give a little love, it just blooms and it’s like a ripple, it just keeps going.”
Currently, more than 12,000 veterans in Cook County live below the poverty line. To help meet their needs, the Food Depository provides food boxes to older veterans, partners with the food pantry at Edward Hines VA hospital and attends local Standdown events, where we provide non-perishable foods and produce to veterans.
“I’m hoping that a lot of veterans get taken care of beside myself,” Ware said. “We’re the backbone of this country. We help ensure that freedom is free.”