North Spirit Award winner delivers healthy food to the sick with a smile – The Santa Rosa Press Democrat | Directory Mayhem

Every Friday after school, Elise Curtis jumps in a car, her mother Tambra at the wheel, and drives to the Ceres Community Project, not far from her home near Santa Rosas Spring Lake. There’s barely time to get from Maria Carrillo High School to Ceres and load their precious cargo fresh from the kitchen. But Elise is rarely absent for a week.

For the next hour, mother and daughter drive around town knocking on doors and delivering healthy meals to people with serious, often life-threatening, illnesses. For some grateful recipients, the soft-spoken teen may be the only other person they see that day. It is important to make it a warm and personal encounter. Elise loves one-to-one interaction, no matter how brief, even if only a few words are spoken.

Elise, 16, is the only youth under 18 on the team of volunteers delivering meals through Ceres, which was founded 15 years ago by Cathryn Couch to teach young volunteers how to deliver nutritious meals to people in the community with cancer and other serious health conditions Cook.

Most members of the delivery team are retired. But when the pandemic hit two years ago, Elise, then a freshman, wanted to continue volunteering, which she had been doing since she was eight, serving as a puppy sitter for Canine Companions, the service dog training program headquartered in Santa Rosa.

Ceres meal delivery was an open voluntary option, and Tambra Curtis, an attorney in the Sonoma County Counsel’s office, was willing to team up and drive, even if it means sometimes using vacation time or catching up on work hours later got to.

For Elise, sometimes it means saying no to friends who want to hang out at the mall on a carefree Friday afternoon. Things get tight for Elise, who is also a cheerleader, on Friday night when the Carrillo Pumas have a game. She just makes it work.

“I have no regrets about being here,” she said one recent afternoon while sitting under a tree in the Ceres garden, which was full of tomatoes and other nutrient-rich summer crops. “I really love doing it and I really love helping Ceres and making people’s day better.”

Looking for new ways to help

Service is a way of life for Elise, who is always looking for new ways to help. During the pandemic, she and her older sister, Tanna, who is now 18 and a freshman at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, created a website and booklet listing help and legal services in Spanish for Latina women in the community who may be Victims of domestic violence became victims of violence (

Last year, Elise was selected to participate in a teenage naturalist program at Pepperwood Preserve in Santa Rosa to help plant native grass and other projects. She was also a delegate for the American Red Cross Leadership Development Center conference in Northern California, where she cultivated leadership skills such as teamwork and public speaking through workshops on disaster risk reduction, diversity, and international service. She later gave fire safety presentations to neighbors to help them be better prepared for fire season.

In August, Elise was recognized with the North Bay Spirit Award for her continued efforts to help her community in any way she can. A project of The Press Democrat and Comcast, the award honors people who make the effort to be of service and take initiative, often identifying a need in the community and finding a way to fill it.

“Elise is a friendly and dependable member of our Delivery Angels team,” said Lisa Baiter, who coordinates deliveries for Ceres customers in Sonoma County. “She always shows up with a smile on Friday afternoons after a full week of school to bring our customers nutritious meals.”

Ceres expects to deliver 200,000 meals to up to 1,600 families in Sonoma and Marin counties this year. That requires a huge army of volunteers. Elise is among 1,000 volunteers working across three locations in Santa Rosa, Sebastopol and Novato. Among them are 400 teenagers like Elise who work in the kitchen and garden, a new job Elise recently started training for.

“What we keep hearing from customers is how much it means to them that people they don’t know – especially teenagers who are busy with sports, school and their social life – are taking the time to prepare these truly delicious meals said Deborah Ramelli, director of development for Ceres. “And they also talk about how the food is made with love and filled with love. For a sick person, that often means as much as the food itself.”

The program teaches the young people practical skills in the kitchen and garden as well as professional and social skills such as leadership, teamwork, commitment and responsibility.

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