Niles chef surpasses fundraising goal to feed seniors in need

NILES — When Chef Cynthia Gallero launched her GoFundMe campaign on April 1 to raise money to feed area seniors, she set her goal at $3,000. Seeing a need to be filled by ensuring area senior citizens had access to quality meals, Gallero used her culinary skills to help.

By the afternoon of April 21, the campaign had raised $4,680. For Gallero, the money raised means another two to three weeks to feed area seniors.

“We are increasing our delivery amount,” Gallero said.

The original need to be filled at the start of April was just 40 area seniors needing meals. As of Tuesday, that amount had increased to 70 seniors in need.

“This, for me, is like doing a catering event for 500 people every week,” Gallero said. “That’s the way I look at it. Every week, it keeps going up. This week, we are preparing 700 meals because we just don’t know what the unknowns are right now.”

For each senior citizen in need who has reached out to her, Gallero creates seven meals per week.

The meals are created from food donated which keeps the menu fresh.

“They’re not just eating a piece of meat and potatoes,” Gallero said. “It’s keeping me creative and whatever I get, I build a menu based on that. It’s keeping me in my skillset and having fun with it.”

The donations given to the GoFundMe campaign go directly to the food cost.

“We have gotten the food cost down to $3.50 a meal,” said Lisa Croteau, Niles Main Street director. She is assisting Gallero in the kitchen and with deliveries. “Cynthia is donating her time and talent to make this happen. It’s expensive to feed people.”

The effort has earned the pair thank-you notes and messages on social media from the community members they are serving.

Gallero has also received requests to purchase meals from her, as the reputation of her work has spread.

“My focus right now is the seniors and having enough for them,” she said. “Once I feel comfortable that I can maintain the meals for them, then I’ll start working on selling.”

Donations of food, supplies and manpower have aided in the mission to keep area seniors fed.

“Their food is made with a lot of love,” Gallero said.

While the original goal of the GoFundMe page has been surpassed, the need has continued to grow. COVID-19 mandates and precautions continue to limit the ability to safely run errands and leave the house for many vulnerable populations.

Gallero will keep the page up and open for donations to continue being able to create quality meals to feed area seniors with. She hopes to continue updating the page weekly with what she has been creating, who she and volunteers are feeding and sharing pictures of the meals.

“That way you can see how scrumptious they are,” Croteau said.

Before the COVID-19 mandates, Gallero could be found cooking at Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend, and working on her own catering business in Niles. While still displaced from her usual work, Gallero said that she is excited for this newfound mission.

“I need to breathe because I’m overwhelmed with the support and excitement, and just people contributing,” she said. “I’m very, very grateful for people to believe in me along this mission.”

Those who would like to donate to feeding area seniors may do so by visiting gofundme.com/f/covid19-feed-the-elderly.