These days, many people are finding purpose and satisfaction in helping others in need. In the spirit of the holiday season of giving, this blog puts the spotlight on one of my favorite Key West charities — one that gives back to the community in the Florida Keys’ true “One Human Family” fashion.

Jarrett (left) and Mark (right), both longtime “Cooking With Love” volunteers, are hard at wok with their fellow volunteer Lynn. (All photos courtesy of “Cooking with Love”)

“Cooking With Love” is an outreach program of the Metropolitan Community Church of Key West founded in 1995. It helps the most vulnerable members of the Key West community by providing more than 300 elderly, low-income or homebound residents with a hot meal delivered to their homes each week.

“Cooking With Love” is an all-volunteer organization and two of my friends, Mark and Jarrett, are part of the all-star team that works tirelessly to keep the amazing effort running smoothly.

Not long ago, I sat down with them to get the 4-1-1 on C.W.L.’s community outreach this holiday season — and all throughout the year.

Keys Voices: What inspired you to begin volunteering your time and talents for “Cooking With Love?”

Mark and Jarrett: We were new to town and wanted to get involved with helping the community, and also at the same time get to know locals.  Plus, we both like to cook as a hobby.

KV: What types of meals do you generally prepare for those in need?

M&J: Once a week, volunteers plan and prepare a fresh, healthy, balanced hot meal.  Meals are prepared each Saturday and range from meatloaf with potatoes, vegetables and fresh fruit to baked ham, yams and vegetables. We try to mix it up with different proteins each week, along with pastas, salads, etc. The goal is to try to make it enough for two meals and always include fresh fruit and/or veggies.

KV: How many volunteers typically work for “Cooking With Love,” and what does your usual weekend’s operational schedule look like? Also, I heard you are now delivering fresh grocery items along with your meals as well?

"Cooking With Love" volunteers Key West

“Cooking With Love” volunteers prepare to depart on food deliveries. The valued organization serves several hundred people every week.

M&J: We have approximately 20 volunteers delivering and pair up two per route, and about six to eight filling grocery bags and meal containers every week. Before COVID, the delivery crew also used to help fill the food containers. However, out of an abundance of caution, we have limited the volunteers doing the grocery and meal prep. Every Saturday morning is very busy with crews arriving early to complete the preparations for the meals, while others prepare approximately 80 grocery bags of food items containing shelf-stable items, dairy, fresh fruit and produce provided by M.C.C’s food pantry program.

KV: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the charity’s operations and the seniors who benefit from your assistance?

M&J: Since the pandemic, we have expanded our program to include weekend meals to our homeless shelter, increased food pantry accessibility and have supported smaller food pantries in the area stocking their shelves.

We believe many people, especially the senior citizens, need the meals and groceries now more than ever with the pandemic. Many of them may be forced to decide between buying groceries or their prescription drugs. Now they are also fearful of going out grocery shopping, so having a meal and groceries brought to them is a big relief.

KV: How many years have you both been volunteering for C.W.L., and can you share any memorable experiences that have bolstered your dedication to the charity?

M&J: We have been volunteering for four-plus years. Before COVID, when I was delivering a meal to a senior, he grabbed me by the hand in tears and said, “Thank you for the food; now I can pick up my prescription and eat too.”

KV: If any of our readers would like to help C.W.L., are you accepting donations or in need of more volunteers?

M&J: Always!  We can use cooks or people to take on a delivery route. They can call M.C.C. at 305-294-8912 or visit our Facebook page.

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