Sarah Holbrook, a senior at McDaniel College, knows first-hand the gratitude for a home-cooked meal during a family crisis. When she was 11, her 9-year-old brother died of leukemia.
That's why she's been involved since she was a freshman with Heroes Helping Hopkins, an on-campus group that cooks meals for families at the Believe in Tomorrow Children's House, which provides a place to stay for families with children being treated for serious illnesses at Johns Hopkins hospital.
"I understand what they're going through how hard it can be, how exhausting," said Holbrook, co-president of the group. "At the end of the day, it's nice to have somebody do something for you."
Believe in Tomorrow is located near Johns Hopkins, but it is not affiliated with the hospital, explained Kate Sachs, events coordinator and spokesperson. It is part of the nonprofit Believe in Tomorrow Foundation, which provides hospital housing, respite housing and adventures for families around the globe with children who are being treated for life-threatening illnesses.
The Baltimore house can hold as many as 15 families at a time, she said, and has two large kitchens so residents can prepare their own meals. Frequently, however, they don't have to, because of groups like Heroes Helping Hopkins, which bring groceries into the house, prepare meals in the kitchen, and leave them for the families.
The McDaniel College group goes to the Baltimore house to prepare meals about four times a semester, said Holbrook, with their most recent visit taking place Sunday night.
Elizabeth Mann, a freshman from Finksburg, took part in preparing and serving Sunday's dinner of tacos and beans and rice. "I love to cook, and why not do it to benefit somebody else?" she said. "We cook, we clean up, we leave it all there for them."
She also enjoys the social aspects of the experience, which includes shopping together for the groceries. The group provides a main dish, sides and dessert, she said. Popular meals include tacos and a classic chicken dinner.
Believe in Tomorrow dates to 1982; the Hopkins house was built in 1992, said Sachs. The national organization also has a respite program, with homes in beach and mountain communities, where families can stay as their children move toward recovery, said Sachs.
The McDaniel students are "very willing to give back," said Sachs. "They always have really exciting menu items. ... Everyone definitely pitches in and definitely helps to put together a good meal for our families."
"It is a good feeling to make people's lives easier when they are going through tough times," said Alex Rieser, a McDaniel senior majoring in sociology.
Holbrook's co-president is Hayley Erickson, a sophomore who joined Heroes Helping Hopkins her freshman year. "It looked like a really good thing to do," she said. "I always like helping people out and I love cooking, so I thought it was a great combination."
Erickson spearheaded a recruitment effort that brought more than 10 additional students to the club this year, she said. Now, there are about 20 or 30 who regularly attend meetings and participate in activities such as making cards for the sick children, said Holbrook. But only five or six at a time can participate in the cook nights, or the kitchen would get too crowded.
Holbrook said her favorite part of preparing the meals is serving them.
"You get to actually talk to the families and hang out with them," she said. "Sometimes they have siblings who are super-cute and adorable. It's just nice to see."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun