Healthy meals are one of the free direct services provided by Pink Ribbon Girls for patients with breast and gynecological cancers.

Comfort food delivery helps ‘ease the burden’ during cancer treatment

Free meals are part of Pink Ribbon Girls direct support

Nichole Smith broke down in tears the first time a box of prepared meals arrived on her doorstep.

The Centerville police officer had been diagnosed with Stage 2B breast cancer and in 2016 had a bilateral mastectomy. The box of meals — provided by Pink Ribbon Girls — would help her care for herself and her family.

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“I was not very mobile, and was used to doing things on my own,” the now 32-year-old recalled. “I could not believe an organization did this for me.”

Healthy meals are one of the free, direct services provided by Pink Ribbon Girls for patients across the region with breast and gynecological cancers. The nonprofit organization, headquartered in Tipp City, also provides house cleaning, transportation to treatment and peer support.

Travis Day, Kerri Metcalf and Mac Burggraf, employees of Scratch Food, make macaroni and cheese for prepared meals that will go to Pink Ribbon Girls clients. LISA POWELL / STAFF
Photo: Staff Writer

“The life of a cancer patient is chaotic,” Smith said. “You are overwhelmed with information, choices and decisions. Knowing I can go to the fridge and pop something in the oven or microwave is one less choice I have to make for the day in a sea of very, very important choices.”

Following surgery, Smith said she still wanted to be able to care for her household despite being in a critical phase of recovery. The prepared meals “made all the difference” for her and her husband. “Leaning on the support of others is humbling but a good experience.”

Smith said the introduction to Pink Ribbon Girls changed the trajectory of her life. She left law enforcement and now serves as the director of programming for the organization. Last year, she oversaw the delivery of 86,638 meals to client households in the Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus regions.

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Prepared meals for clients of Pink Ribbon Girls are sealed and then frozen for delivery. LISA POWELL / STAFF
Photo: Staff Writer

Those supportive meals are made at Scratch Food in Washington Twp. Marshall Bartley, the executive chef, and his five-person team prep and cook 1,800 to 2,000 meals each week for delivery.

Every Monday, PRG clients receive three meals for each person in their household. There are 17 meals in the rotation and Bartley plans to add a half dozen more recipes next year.

Client favorites include meatloaf with macaroni and cheese and cinnamon dolce carrots, chicken Parmesan with pasta and green beans and carved chicken with roasted vegetables and marinara.

“We make people comfortable and ease the burden on them by providing a warming and hearty dish,” Bartley said.

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Meat loaf with macaroni and cheese and cinnamon dolce carrots are one of the popular meals provided by Pink Ribbon Girls to patients with breast or gynecological cancers. Marshall Bartley, the executive chef, and his five-person team prep and cook 1,800 to 2,000 meals each week for delivery. LISA POWELL / STAFF

It takes Bartley and his team two days to cook a week’s worth of meals for the clients and another day and a half to package them.

Recently, the crew formed an assembly line placing slabs of lasagna topped with marinara and fresh green beans into hundreds of plastic trays. The dishes are sealed and stored in a walk-in freezer large enough to hold 9,500 meals.

“I like to describe our meals as high quality and wholesome prepared meals,” Bartley said. He sources fresh ingredients and limits refined sugar and an overabundance of carbohydrates in the dishes. “We try to stay in a moderate range with fat, cholesterol and salt.”

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Prepared meals for Pink Ribbon Girls can be cooked in the oven or microwave. Healthy meals are one of the free direct services provided by Pink Ribbon Girls for patients with breast and gynecological cancers. The nonprofit organization, headquartered in Tipp City, also provides house cleaning, transportation to treatment and peer support. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Bartley said he hopes the meals provide the same sort of comfort he experienced while eating his grandmother’s cooking.

He’s included one of his grandmother’s go-to dishes in the rotation, Johnny Marzetti, a combination of pasta, cheese, tomato sauce and ground beef. “You always walked into her house, and it smelled good,” he said.

“I want the meals to take some stress away,” Bartley said. “Clients should not worry about feeding their family and tell themselves, ‘I can worry about me and I can take care of me today.’ It’s one less thing they have to do in a very stressful and busy time of their life.”

Heather Salazar, the CEO and president of the Pink Ribbon Girls, is from Tipp City and has quite the inspiring story.

HOW TO GET HELP

The Pink Ribbon Girls, Inc. is a non-profit that provides free direct services to clients with breast and gynecological cancers.

The services, for patients and their households, include healthy meals, housecleaning, rides to treatment and peer support.

There are no age or income restrictions.

To request assistance log onto pinkribbongirls.org to submit a request for support and outline needs.

PRG requires a patient verification form completed by the patient and doctor to verify diagnosis.

A client coordinator will contact the patient to customize services based on their household needs.

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