Community Gem: YWCA cook uses love as key ingredient for meals

Sheila Casey pours love and calm into her work as one of the part-time cooks at the YWCA.

Sheila Casey believes that good food is love for those who eat it.

Casey is one of the cooks at the YWCA of Dayton’s downtown branch, which shelters women and families who need assistance after domestic violence. She’s cooking for women and children who have been in rough circumstances.

One year at Thanksgiving, a woman came into Casey’s kitchen to pop some popcorn, since the resident thought no one would be working in the kitchen that day. She turned around and saw Casey, who had made an entire Thanksgiving dinner for the residents complete with candied yams, macaroni and cheese and several desserts.

“She just started crying because it took her back to her mom, to her home,” Casey said. “And she said, I thought I was going to have to just eat whatever.”

Casey said it can be hard not to get attached to residents, especially the kids. Little kids will run up to the kitchen and look for her, Casey said, and tell her they’ll be back for whatever food she’s made.

When they leave, Casey says she feels sad, even if they are leaving for a better living situation.

Casey previously worked at Good Samaritan Hospital as a cafeteria worker and retired to take care of an elderly family member. After that family member died, Casey wound up volunteering after her daughter connected her to the YWCA beginning in 2019 and then came back to work part-time in 2020.

“I get a joy out of doing what I’m doing because I feel like I’m giving back,” Casey said.

Casey said she was brought up to bring a sense of peace and community to people. She goes to church and says that helped her bring a sense of calm to herself as well.

Casey has motivational posters on the kitchen walls that remind her and the residents of faith and that people love them. She plays gospel music because that makes her feel safe and loved. But that together creates a safe environment for other people as well.

“Even the employees come up when they’ve had a rough day,” she said. “They come into the kitchen, because they said this is their safe zone where they can just come breathe and relax.”

Kaitlin Schroeder, the communications director for the YWCA, said Casey is a vital part of the organization, and the YWCA truly couldn’t serve residents without her.

“Food is love, and the YWCA wouldn’t be the same place without her in the kitchen,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder said Casey’s job is often overlooked in favor of board members or executives, but the YWCA wouldn’t exist without a talented cook. Schroeder said recognition for her work is well overdue.

“She takes whatever oddball donations we get and makes a dignified meal to serve with love to women and children escaping from abuse,” Schroeder said.

The YWCA gets food from The Food Bank, so Casey also doesn’t know what she’s getting ahead of time. Part of her job is assessing what has been delivered and deciding what to cook based on the ingredients she has in the day.

“I try to get them good, home-cooked meals,” Casey said. “I just want them to know someone cares and loves them.”

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