Caring Cooks: Casserole ministry needs friends helping friends


Melinda Clark, office manager and registered nurse at Whitecar Cancer Care Center in Columbus, shows freezer-ready food caring people in the community have placed in a casserole ministry freezer. The food is dispersed to area cancer patients, regardless of where they receive treatment locally.

Melinda Clark, office manager and registered nurse at Whitecar Cancer Care Center in Columbus, shows freezer-ready food caring people in the community have placed in a casserole ministry freezer. The food is dispersed to area cancer patients, regardless of where they receive treatment locally. Photo by: Kelly Tippett


Launch Photo Gallery


The late Meredith Skipper, of Columbus, pictured here in 2004 with her beloved dogs Molly Brown, Sassie Pie and Gypsie Rose, helped launch the casserole ministry and a cookbook of recipes compiled by cancer survivors and friends.



Jan Swoope



Some words have the power to shake our foundation. "Cancer" is one of them. Six letters with the ability to turn life inside out. The road to becoming a cancer survivor is a challenging one, often filled with life-altering treatments, all while trying to maintain some semblance of daily life.  


For those undergoing radiation or chemotherapy, cooking for family -- or even just themselves -- is often the last task they feel up to. And a nutritious diet is a key element in marshalling defenses. The late Meredith Skipper, a cancer patient, knew this firsthand, which is exactly what inspired the energetic Columbus woman and others to begin a Friends Helping Friends casserole ministry in 2005.  


Caring cooks joined forces to help keep a freezer located at the Whitecar Cancer Care Center in Columbus stocked with casseroles, soups and desserts to make area cancer patients'' roughest days just a bit easier.  


"Meredith was a very unique person, and she had such a brilliant mind," said Muffie Ellis, of Columbus. Ellis was one of Skipper''s network of friends who saw the past president of the Lowndes County Republican Women and Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society advocate through her ordeal. "She would think of things, like, ''OK, I''ve got cancer; how does this work, what do people need?'' She was like Nike -- she just did it."  


Although the vivacious Skipper ultimately succumbed to a third bout with the disease several years ago, the casserole ministry she began continues in her memory. But it could use an infusion of enthusiastic support.  




How you can help 


"People ask, ''What can I do to help?'' The casserole ministry provides a venue and outlet for volunteers to channel their help," said Melinda Clark, a registered nurse and office manager at the Whitecar Cancer Care Center and Columbus Hematology and Oncology Clinic in Columbus. 


The freezer, donated by Dr. John Whitecar when Skipper and supporters launched the program, is located in the Care Center at 425 Hospital Drive, Suite 4. Food items are available to all cancer patients, regardless of where they receive treatment. 


Whether you have an occasional spare hour, or belong to an organized group -- such as a church circle or garden club able to take on food preparation -- your willingness to nurture body and soul by bringing by a family-size or individual-size dish for the casserole ministry freezer touches lives in ways you may never know. 


"When you finish chemotherapy, you don''t feel like doing anything," said Evelyn Miller, 61, a seven-year cancer patient. Miller lives alone in McCool, but travels to Columbus for treatment. When she is up to it, she also prepares something to leave in the freezer, to help others like herself. 


"I love the vegetable soup, and there was a broccoli and chicken casserole that was very good," she praised. "It''s such a big help; it''s been a true blessing to me." 




Food donation guidelines 


The casserole ministry asks food preparers to follow these guidelines:  


n Use disposable non-returnable containers. (We recommend newly-purchased Gladware for microwave; foil pans for oven reheating.) 


n Please, no Styrofoam or recycled plastic, like Cool Whip containers. 


n Label containers with the name of the food prepared, date prepared, main ingredients (i.e., eggs, nuts, spices, for potential food allergies) and directions for reheating, including oven temperature and time. 


n Freezer-ready food may be dropped off between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Thursdays at the Columbus Hematology and Oncology Clinic -- Dr. John Whitecar''s offices -- at 425 Hospital Drive, Suite 4. 


Suggested foods include soup, corn muffins, banana bread and desserts, and casseroles such as chicken, spaghetti, chicken and rice, macaroni and cheese or tuna.  


After receiving treatment at any facility, cancer patients may drop by the clinic to select a homemade meal from the freezer.  


"Take home your casserole and enjoy," encouraged Clark.  


For more information about the casserole ministry, contact Clark at 662-240-0650.  




Survivors cookbook 


Skipper was also instrumental in compiling "Survivors! Cooking for Cancer," a 580-page cookbook chock-full of recipes contributed by area cancer survivors, as well as glimpses into their inspiring stories. 


The cookbooks, available at the clinic, are $20; all proceeds go to the American Cancer Society''s Relay for Life.  


"Meredith was such a trooper," said Ellis. "She was selling those cookbooks even when she was in the hospital. It was all for the American Cancer Society. She was a woman with a mission." 


For the proactive Skipper, surrounding herself with friends and positive advocacy was of tremendous benefit. In helping others, she strengthened her own outlook and appreciation of life during a difficult time. 


"She felt going through cancer is a time in your life when you need people, and she felt that was very important -- not to be alone," Ellis added. 


In the cookbook''s foreword, in her own words, Skipper leaves a legacy for others who find themselves facing the test: 


"A well-known axiom states, ''It is better to give than to receive.'' Currently on my third cancer journey, I have had opportunities to learn many things along the paths I have been led. One of the greatest things I have learned is how to be a receiver. Not an easy task for me or for many others. Receiving is not a sign of weakness or defeat. It is a trait of courage and opening your heart to others. ... Open your heart and let others in. ..."  








One pound beef 


One medium onion, chopped 


2 cups whole diced tomatoes 


3 tablespoons ketchup 


1 tablespoon steak sauce 


1/4 cup green pepper, chopped 


5 ounces elbow macaroni 


1 cup grated cheddar cheese 


One can mushroom soup 


Salt and pepper  




  • Brown the beef and add onion, tomatoes, ketchup, steak sauce and green pepper. Simmer for 30 minutes. 


  • Cook macaroni and combine; gently spoon mushroom soup into the mixture. 


  • Sprinkle grated cheese over the top and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  








Two to three medium zucchini 


1 cup shredded cheese 


Bread or cracker crumbs 


One to two small onions 


Three to four ripe tomatoes 


Salt and pepper to taste 




  • Alternate layers of vegetables in a casserole dish. Salt and pepper each layer. 


  • Top with crumbs and bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  


  • Remove from oven and top with cheese; return to oven and bake until cheese melts.  








Makes 16 slices 




One 8-ounce package light cream cheese, softened 


1 cup sugar 


Three medium bananas, mashed 


One large egg, beaten 


Two large egg whites 


2 cups biscuit baking mix  


1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 




  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-by-5-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray. 


  • In a mixing bowl, cream together the cream cheese and sugar until light. Beat in bananas, egg and egg whites. 


  • Stir in the biscuit mix and cinnamon until just blended and turn into the prepared loaf pan.  


  • Bake for 45 minutes to one hour, until an inserted toothpick in the center comes out clean. Let cool.  




(Recipes courtesy of "Survivors! Cooking for Cancer")


Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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