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Jefferson Award Winner Teaches Teen To Cook, Feeds Ill

SEBASTOPOL (CBS 5) - North Bay chef started with a simple request: teach a teenager how to cook. Now, that idea's boiled over into a unique meals program that the chef says is saving lives. It's earned her this week's Jefferson Award.

The food that leaves the kitchen of Cathryn Couch's Sebastopol nonprofit must be beautiful, delicious and nourishing - because it feeds people who are fighting for their lives.

"There's nothing more powerful than eating this way and realizing you actually feel better," Couch explained.

Couch is founder and executive director of the Ceres Community Project. The 5-year-old nonprofit delivers its healthy, organic meals to 80 patients and their families who are battling life-threatening illnesses.

Ceres delivers its free meals every week in Sonoma and Marin Counties. Darlene Ste. Croix has been diagnosed with a terminal case of leukemia, but she says Ceres' meals have kept her alive.

"The food is medicine, yes it is," Ste. Croix said. "I eat more vegetables. You learn how to eat a higher quality food."

The idea for Ceres grew after Couch agreed to teach her friend's daughter how to cook six years ago. Couch, a self-taught chef, and the teenager made meals for three families dealing with serious illnesses. That experience produced the perfect ingredients for Ceres.

"It really came out of that simple idea of get kids in the kitchen and cook for people who are sick," she remembered.

Couch started at a church kitchen in Sonoma County. Today, Ceres has its own kitchen and has served 900 families 130,000 meals.

Hundreds of adult volunteers deliver meals and oversee 250 young chefs. But it's the teenagers who do the cooking, using food from Ceres' garden and local donations.

Fifteen-year-old Sophie Leveque-Esechorn has discovered she can make a difference.

"I can do something I love and I can help others so that's really great," she said.

Now, Couch is sharing the Ceres recipe with several nonprofits across the nation.

"Our deepest longing as human beings is to feel like our lives matter and that we are cared for and care for others," she said. "Ceres is one big stew of that."

So for providing healthy meals for hundreds of seriously ill patients and their families, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Cathryn Couch.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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