Sonoma Valley Ceres Program: Nourishing the roots of community

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“We are not just teaching cooking skills.  We are teaching how to be a responsible member of the community.”     – Francesca Fifis, Project Manager, Sonoma Valley Ceres Program

On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays each week, the well-appointed kitchen at Hanna Boys Center is abuzz with local teen volunteers working diligently under the guidance of the Ceres Community Project chefs to prepare a weekly menu of nourishing dinners destined for clients with serious illnesses.  After two and a half days of intensive preparation, other volunteers bag the meals for “Angels” who deliver the meals to grateful recipients living between Kenwood and Sonoma.  These lovingly planned and prepared meals (consisting of locally grown ingredients) provide dinners for five days – a welcome gift to those otherwise unable to cook such meals for themselves.

In June 2013, the Ceres Project, headquartered in Sebastopol, received an Impact100 Community Grant of $15,000 that enabled them to open a new satellite branch to serve Sonoma Valley.  Zealously implementing the foundational philosophy of the Ceres Project, the work focuses on providing leadership skills to teenagers while helping heal the community by serving nutritious meals to seriously ill clients.  The effects are far reaching and long-lasting.  As clients’ health benefits from the nourishment, the teen volunteers also benefit as they learn first-hand about nutrition and how to plan and cook nutritious meals.  This education will hopefully last throughout their lifetimes, enabling them to engage in nutrition-giving behaviors with others, and thereby sustaining ongoing healthy eating practices for the community.

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Francesca Fifis, Project Manager (and part-time chef) at the Ceres Project Sonoma branch is proud of the program’s impact.  Francesca noted, “We have served over 1,900 meals to a total of 21 clients in Sonoma since June.”  She emphasizes that the teen volunteers from local high schools and the Hanna Boys Center are mainly learning about community leadership.  The cooking and food preparation are the results of those acquired leadership roles.

Looking ahead, plans are in place to expand outreach through deeper involvement with local schools and increased nutritional education.  The Hanna Boys Center, which currently sponsors the program’s kitchen, also offers its auditorium for use in Ceres’ ongoing volunteer orientations and other educational sessions.  Secondly, since Ceres’ nutritional focus has always been on locally and freshly grown produce, the Sonoma Valley program is also starting its own garden on the Hanna site.  Already growing some herbs just outside the kitchen, the new on-site garden will provide more sunny space for the colorful panoply of fruits and vegetables that make up Ceres meals.

Hard-working and fiercely dedicated, the Sonoma Valley Ceres program is truly an enterprise to nourish the roots of our community.  For more information about the Ceres Project, visit

                                                Text and photos provided by Impact100 member, Pamela Sloane