In 2006 while working as a chef at a retreat center in Sonoma County, California, Cathryn Couch learned that a mother in her community was struggling with stage IV breast cancer. She began whipping up meals to drop off at the family's house. "I had no intention of it going anywhere," says Couch, 59. "I never thought, Oh, let's start a movement."

But that's exactly what happened. As word of Couch's grassroots meal-delivery service spread, more people requested help, and she quickly went from serving a few families to more than 500. Within a year, she formalized the operation by founding the Ceres Community Project, a nonprofit that provides free meals to low-income individuals struggling with serious illnesses; Ceres is on track to deliver more than 90,000 organic meals by the end of the year. "Up to 80 percent of cancer patients are malnourished while going through treatment," says Couch, who wants to lower that statistic. Several studies have shown that well-fed cancer patients typically respond better to treatment.

Now Couch is taking her program nationwide. The Ceres model has been replicated in nine cities, including Nashville and Summit, New Jersey. "We can feed someone for eight weeks for less than $500. If they have to be readmitted to the hospital, it can cost nearly $6,000," says Couch. "Helping people heal more quickly and lowering healthcare costs—it's the ultimate win-win."


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