Meal preparationBefore there was a large market at Perry Wellness Center – before there was a bustling cafeteria, there was a small group of peers that needed to be fed. Like many tasks at the young recovery program, it was a problem in search of an answer

“When we started, and there was no money except for some donations, we had to plan to feed our group,” Perry Wellness Center founder and CEO Stuart Perry recalls. “Few knew the value and taste of home cooked meals. Since we have always stood for good and healthy nutrition, we began with wholesome food. We began that first year with Meals on Wheels. I had to find a solution.”

The solution for that small group was already on campus. An original peer member, Annie Ruth Thomas, met with Stuart and shared her thoughts on what might be done to provide food to the small but growing group. Known affectionately as “Mama” on campus, Annie Ruth offered some downright motherly advice.

“I told Stuart that he was wasting too much money,” she explains. “I wanted to help, since I prided my work in my own kitchen as I cooked some good and wholesome food. We threw away too much food. I offered my ideas. Stuart then covered all the particulars in providing the best food, but we had nothing to cook on. I told him I would bring an electric skillet and some pots to the center.”

Initially, the peer cook volunteered to cook breakfast and lunch at the center. She notes, “Stuart asked me for a menu, and together we cooked egg sandwiches and, sometimes, grits for breakfast. And we had cabbage and other vegetables that we grew in our own garden. All Stuart had to buy was the meat!”

Ten years later, Perry Wellness Center has a state-of-the-art cafeteria that provides breakfast and lunch to almost 70 peers, as well as staff, each weekday. But Stuart and Annie Ruth still remember those early days fondly.

In the photo above, Amanda and Stuart Perry reminisce with Annie Ruth Thomas about early days at Perry Wellness Center.

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