COMMUNITY GEMS: Cooking for colleagues puts smiles on faces

Charlene Hess treats her coworkers to a homemade meal during at least one shift each week



When the scent of what Charlene Hess is cooking wafts through her workplace, she is sure to get visitors. Her coworkers will drift into the kitchenette.

“They’ll ask, ‘What are we making today?’ or “What do we have?’ and they’ll get all excited,” she said.

Hess, who is the on-time coordinator and trainer at the Kettering Health Incident Command Center, generally feeds a handful or two of her coworkers during at least one shift during the week and occasionally on the weekends, too.

Chicken and noodles over mashed potatoes are a hit, as are Reubens. She makes a lot of soups, as well as shredded chicken, beef barbecue and jambalaya.

“They like anything, and they’re willing to try anything,” she said.

Hess, 64, prepares for the meals at home and carts the ingredients and spices to work. Meals often involve a crockpot, and sometimes she’ll dish up the meal and deliver it to her coworkers.

“It’s just nice to share that,” said Hess, who was nominated as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem.

Kevin Coffee, who is a dispatch supervisor at the command center, said his favorite meal from Hess is her smoked meats. She’ll smoke them at home for about 24 hours before bringing them to share, he said.

Her coworkers can see the care and love that she puts into her cooking, he said. The proof is on their faces.

“It brings a smile and makes everyone a little more relaxed eating something that’s homecooked rather than in a lunchbox,” said Coffee, who lives in the Englewood area.

Hess has long liked to cook. Her grandparents lived next door to her on a dairy farm outside of Urbana when she was growing up. After school, her brothers would head to the barn with their grandfather and dad, and she could be found in the kitchen with her grandma.

“I always got to clean all the lettuce and scrape all the carrots,” she said.

Both of her grandmothers were excellent cooks, she added – one was known for her chocolate cake and pot roast, the other for her homemade egg noodles, lemon meringue pie and birthday cakes.

Hess now lives in St. Paris, where she ran Char’s Market and Kitchen for three years until the COVID-19 pandemic hit and it closed in 2020. Now she is preparing to launch her own food trailer, to be called Miss Char’s, which will feature a variety of foods like Reubens, chicken burritos, coffee cake, donuts, coffee and specialty lemonade, with the ability to tailor menus to specific events and needs.

She has worked at the Kettering Health Incident Command Center for three years. She also has a combined 20 years of active and reserve status in the U.S. Army, where she became one of the first 33 women in the country to become a paratrooper.

Hess’s cooking contributes to the camaraderie of the command center, whether they are eating with each other or discussing their memories of certain dishes.

“It brings us together,” Hess said. “It makes me happy to do it, but their response to it is the reward.”

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