MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- An interfaith lecture a few years ago got a Thiensville woman thinking, and it inspired her to create a group she and her friends call “Food for Thought.” Now, they spend one day a month cooking 70 meals for The Guest House of Milwaukee, a local homeless shelter.
It’s something the women used to do together in Marylee Presti’s kitchen in Thiensville, but Covid-19 is keeping them apart for now. Still, it’s not stopping them from helping those in need.
On a recent September Tuesday, Presti and her husband, Mark, could be found in the kitchen, mixing up cheddar ranch baked chicken. Their teamwork was on full display, as Marylee topped the chicken and Mark found space in the crowded refrigerator.
“That was probably one of our biggest challenges, trying to find enough refrigerator space,” Marylee said with a laugh.
She misses the kitchen being crowded with her friends.
“You know, we thought we'd be back by August,” she said of the pandemic and the social distancing they put in place a few months ago.
But the work is now spread out between several kitchens, including her neighbor Pat’s.
“She and another friend were working over there,” Marylee said.
Once all of the preparation is done, each tray of chicken is loaded into the car. Mark and Marylee then drive it all to The Guest House of Milwaukee.
“Kind of doing our version of curbside meal delivery,” said Guest House Executive Director, Cindy Krahenbuhl.
Krahenbuhl said volunteers like the Prestis and their friends make these meals possible.
“We want that home-like environment and we want people to feel welcome and nourished and having these wonderful, home-cooked meals is part of that,” she said.
Marylee and her friends pride themselves on providing a delicious meal, and she said the work makes her think about her own life, and the need to give back.
“I have a roof over my head. I have a warm bed to go to. I have a meal-- more than enough food,” she exclaimed.
Those are some of the reasons she started cooking for The Guest House.
“Saying it makes you feel good is kind of light. It makes you realize, number one, how much we have,” she said.
When the women started out, they made sandwiches The Guest House could hand out.
“Pretty much, it was a social thing to do,” she explained. “And then within a years' time, they went from needing 100 sandwiches to like 350.”
Eventually, the women worked all the way up to making 700 sandwiches. But Krahenbuhl said, when the pandemic hit, the needs at The Guest House changed.
“At the peak of it, when we had to bring food in, cater it in for all the men in shelter, it would cost us up to $18,000 a month,” Krahenbuhl said.
So the women in Food for Thought pivoted to making hot meals. More than a dozen different women pitch in when they can. Marylee comes up with the recipes, and when asked why she chose The Guest House of Milwaukee, she said she likes the acceptance she finds there.
“No matter what your color or religion, they will help you,” Presti said.
After their first drop-off, Mark and Marylee’s work isn’t done. They picked up potatoes, beans and salad from the other kitchens to make the meal complete.
“We're retired folks, so we have time to do it, and we're more than happy to do it,” Mark said, also noting that he’s proud of his wife’s hard work.
They let the staff wheel the meal inside. Marylee said she’s looking forward to the day she can go inside the shelter and serve the men she’s cooking for.
“I want to know how it is, I want to know how they liked it,” she said. “You want to make the best for somebody. I don't want to make something that's haphazard, I want to make a really delicious meal.”