I wanted to do something a little different this week. The theme for this month is Compassion and so I thought I would start by talking about how people have used food to express compassion. In the process of doing my research, I stumbled upon this story about one of my favorite chefs, Ming Tsai. May this story inspire each of us to share a meal with someone we know who is struggling.
In 2010, Shauna McLaughlin faced a mother's worst nightmare. Her then 19-month-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. As a single parent, Ms. McLaughlin was solely responsible for her daughter's medical, emotional, and financial care. Ms McLaughlin recalls, "I left my job to take care of her because she needed me around the clock. I couldn't leave her alone at the hospital. She was critically ill, and at times on life support."
Support is something McLaughlin desperately needed. A social worker at Dana Farber hospital, where the Ms. McLaughlin's daughter was receiving care, recognized the challenges the family faced. The social worker connected Ms. McLaughlin with Carla Tardiff, director of the Family Reach Program. Little did Ms. Tardiff know how much this single mother was struggling. Ms. McLaughlin recalls, "I didn't have heat and wasn't able to make the monthly rent payments."
Sadly, Ms. Mc Laughlin is not alone. The Family Reach Foundation estimates that over 100,000 children and young adults battle cancer, and one half of those families confront a financial hardship. Ms. Tardiff maintains that they help out these families by making direct financial payments to the landlord or a utility company. Ms. Tardif also recognizes other areas where families need financial assistance. Some families, for example, struggle to pay hospital parking fees and medical co-pays.
Last month in Boston, I met Ms. Ms Tardif at Chef Ming Tsai's Blue Dragon restaurant. Ms. Tardif, herself a breast cancer survivor, arrived early and was slightly distracted. She remarked, "It was a tough week. Two of the families we help lost loved ones. Over the weekend, I called Ming (Tsai) telling him that this family really needed help. He immediately drove out to their home and brought all of this food. When we left, Ming knew that the child didn't have long to live. I said, 'No, I think it will be a while.' It wasn't long."
Shortly after Ms. Tardiff finishes her story, Chef Tsai arrives, dressed casually and ready to talk about the foundation. He never once mentions his own success as a chef and business man. Ms. Tardiff reached out to Chef Tsai in December 2010, to help grant a final wish of a young woman, named Darlene. Darlene knew that she was dying from cancer. She wanted to meet Chef Tsai, and have him prepare a meal for her. Chef Tsai not only granted Darlene's wish, he vowed to help Ms. Tardiff reach other families. Chef Tsai explains, "I can't fix cancer, but I can help with the foundation. Financially, families don't recover when something like this happens. They wonder if they can make their car payments and if they have enough money to get gas. Family Reach helps with gas cards, and other expenses, and these families appreciate it."
Ms. Tardiff is extremely appreciative for Chef Tsai's support. In 2012, he founded "Cooking Live with Ming Tsai and Friends." Families fighting cancer are given front row seats and other celebrities participate. These events are an important fundraiser to support families like Ms. McLaughlin. She says, "Carla (Tardiff) and Ming have becomes friends. They're always emotionally there for me. I feel that Ming puts his whole heart into this foundation and genuinely cares about everyone."