Brenda Sears, her husband and her three children have turned their love for cooking into their own community outreach program involving Mansfield Elementary School, the Garden of Gethsemane Shelter and anyone else fortunate enough to fall within their circle of influence.
Food serves as far more than a basic energy source for Brenda Sears and her family.
“My husband and I love to cook,” the Texas native said, “so if we have anybody who is sick around us, we will cook them dinner and take it over to them. We feed people when we know they are in need.”
Because she was raised in a Hispanic household, Sears cooks many traditional Mexican dishes, like chicken and steak fajitas. Her husband Lee, who was raised in Georgia, prepares more homestyle meals, like broccoli casserole and macaroni and cheese.
“We just make a meal and take it to their house, and we make sure we make enough so they will have enough for a while or some to share,” Sears said, pointing out that having food stocked in the freezer or refrigerator can make life easier when people are ill at home or traveling back and forth to doctor’s visits.
The Sears family has on occasion taken its cooking on the road, visiting the Garden of Gethsemane Shelter in Covington to cook for residents.
“My mom has always told me that when you cook, you cook with love, and that makes the food taste better.”Brenda Sears
“We serve and fellowship with the people who are in the homeless shelter,” Sears said. “We will load up the grill on our truck and just grill out for them. They would come talk to us and hang out while we were grilling, and once the food was ready, we would serve them and eat with them and fellowship with them.”
She admits she comes by the desire to cook for her family and others naturally. Her father loved to grill, and her stay-at-home mother also knows how to run a kitchen.
“She made fresh food all the time, even the flour and corn tortillas,” Sears said. “It’s always been about food in my family. My mom has always told me that when you cook, you cook with love, and that makes the food taste better.”
A mother herself, Sears relishes the opportunity to pass on the proud tradition of cooking to her own family. Many of the recipes from which she cooks today were passed down from her mother, and she continues the tradition by allowing her kids—Hollie, 13, Hannah, 11, and Simon Luke, 5—to assist her in the kitchen. “My 5-year-old even helps me,” said Sears, who recently taught her son how to cut celery. “He said, ‘I want to help you.’” During home school in the spring, Hollie was assigned to make food, take pictures of the meals and write about them for one of her classes. Hannah enjoys baking sweets. “She helps me in the kitchen,” Sears said, “especially if it’s something she wants.”
Over the past few years, Sears has also enlisted her children to help feed students at Mansfield Elementary School. She started what became known as the PB&J Project, which packs bags of food for underprivileged kids identified by the school’s counseling department or administration. Once or twice a month, 20 students are sent home with a bag of food that includes juice, peanut butter and sometimes bread, along with snacks like Goldfish, crackers, apple sauce, tuna pouches, cereal and other nonperishable items.
“We want to keep it easy to where the kids don’t have to completely cook something or get burned, so we try to keep it to microwavable soups or mac and cheese,” she said. “We do a lot of ready-to-eat items to where they don’t have to turn on the stove.”
Sears borrowed the idea from a Bible study group in Fort Hood, Texas, where her husband was once stationed as a member of the United States Army. With the help of donations from family and friends, Sears collects a majority of the items she needs to stuff the bags. She and her family then spend several hours packing the bags for the children before delivering them. The school in turn distributes the bags in order to keep those involved in the program anonymous to anyone outside of school administrators.
“The PB&J Project has been meeting students’ nutritional needs over the weekend for several years. Their generosity ensures children do not have to go without meals,” said Mansfield Elementary School counselor Ashley Burt. “I just do not have words for how important that is. We are eternally grateful for this program.”