Village Project celebrates a 10-year milestone

Village Project relies on teenage cooks and volunteers of all ages to prepare and deliver nutritious meals to people in the community experiencing cancer.

A decade has passed since Bay Village resident Barb Harrell first laid eyes on "Nourishing Connections," a cookbook published by Ceres Community Project of Sebastopol, California. She was intrigued and inspired by the Ceres Project’s innovative concept of using local teenage cooks to prepare nutritious meals for people in their community who are experiencing health problems. She traveled to California to find out more. This little, spiral-bound cookbook set Barb’s life on a new path.

On Sept. 24, 2010, Village Project was born with its mission to come together as a community of all ages to provide nourishing meals and extended care and service to our neighbors experiencing cancer.

Barb had no problem enlisting the help she needed to make her vision a reality. In just weeks, Bay Village embraced the fledgling Village Food Project, as it was called then, and volunteers eagerly came forward to share their time and resources with the new project.

On Feb. 1, 2011, Village Food Project prepared its first, nutritious meals in the basement kitchen of Bay Presbyterian Church and delivered them to four families in Bay Village who were struggling with cancer. Under the supervision of volunteer adult cooks, teens took responsibility for the major portion of meal preparation and packaging. Through this experience, local teens learned about nutrition, meal planning, cooking, and most importantly, the joy of serving others.

After only one year of operation, Village Project more than doubled its client base and was supported by more than 100 volunteers. In 2012, Avon Lake was added to the area that VP served, and by mid-year, further growth necessitated a search for a larger base of operations. In September 2013, VP volunteers renovated and moved into a 3,500-square-foot facility on West Oviatt Road offering meeting space, an activity area, office space, storage and a commercial kitchen. The new, larger facility made it possible for Village Project to serve Rocky River, as well.

As the need grew in the area, both Westlake (2015) and Avon (2017) were added to the communities that Village Project serves. Because Village Project’s client base had increased 600% since its inception, the organization knew it must try to address space limitations in its facility that threatened to prevent further growth. Project Pillar, VP’s expansion funding initiative, was launched in early 2018, and by September of that year the expanded facility, incorporating the part of the building that formerly housed Thomas & Thomas Photography Studio, was completed. The facility now had the ability to double the number of client meals, thereby serving twice as many clients, had additional storage and room for volunteer training, as well as client and community engagement, including cooking classes.

Through the years, many people asked if they could purchase some of the tasty and wholesome foods that VP has shared with their clients. The newly expanded headquarters building enabled VP to open a retail shop to do just that. Not only does Project Shoppe offer two healthy entrees each week for carry-out purchase, there is also a wonderful selection of locally-sourced gift items, including specialty vinegars, granola, herbed salts and even dog treats made right in the Village Project kitchen with the freshest, organic ingredients.

Ten years in, over 35,000 meals and extended services have been provided to over 350 families living in Bay Village, Westlake, Avon, Avon Lake and Rocky River. In addition to the nutritious meals, clients also receive extended support such as yard clean-up, errand running, holiday baskets, flower bouquets and more. Volunteers number beyond 600, from 2 to 90 years of age. The benefit of working in a multi-generational volunteer setting has been a tremendous gift to those involved, resulting in appreciation and respect for others’ gifts, talents, experience, wisdom and energy.

Barb Harrell would like to thank each individual and family for their involvement with Village Project over the years and ask everyone to consider making a $10 donation in support of VP’s operations. To help celebrate the anniversary, customers will also enjoy 10% off all Project Shoppe purchases during the month of September. More information about Village Project can be found at or by calling 440-348-9401.

Here are thoughts from some of Village Project’s treasured volunteers and clients:

”I‘m so happy to be able to help make our clients’ lives a little bit better. As I sometimes say to my clients, ‘I’m the Delivery Angel you see every week, but there are so many wonderful, caring Village Project volunteers who make sure our meals are prepared, packaged and ready for delivery.’ As a Delivery Angel for the past year and a half, I wish I could convey to you and the team how many times a client has told me how much these meals mean to them and their families, especially as they are undergoing treatment. Sometimes it’s uplifting. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking. It is indeed an honor and a privilege to be associated with and represent the Village Project.”

– Pat O’Hara, Delivery Angel

”Cancer is emotionally and physically exhausting. It was a huge help and an instant pick-me-up, too. I was just so touched and grateful for the kindness, generosity and support of the people in my community, most of them strangers to me at the time. I’m so lucky and blessed to have the Village Project in our community. I wish every community had one.”

– Jennifer Breehl, Client

"The kids learn so much about outdoors and nature and don't even realize how much they're helping other people. To see the kids' faces light up when they realize they're meeting someone who they helped is just amazing. It is such a wonderful organization that teaches adults, as well as children, to serve other people while they're nourishing their own life. The word nourish is so perfect. We really are nourishing the community."

– Sherri Reilly, Garden Leader

"Volunteering at Village Project is a great opportunity for you to be part of something bigger than yourself and have an incredible effect on the people we serve."

 – Joe Talaba, Adult Cook

"Even though I'm sick, I want to make sure my family comes first. Especially when I know I can't cook or make my family feel good, there's someone to feed them who cares. And what they eat is healthy. It takes a lot of stress off me."

– Lisa Baumgartner, Client

"Going through my cancer journey, I've never felt like I was alone. There's always contact and genuine care and concern. And, for those who believe, prayers that go above and beyond. It's amazing how this organization was so small and now has blossomed and is helping more and more people and families. I would like to see more people embrace volunteering, donating and being active in the Village Project. It's about so much more than cancer or having cancer. It really is about community."

– Nancy Brown, Client

"Everybody's good, works hard and pitches in. There's never a time when you can't find someone to help. A big part of this is Barb. Village Project wouldn't be here without her. If you look up community in the dictionary, there's a picture of Barb."

– Jim Erlandson, VP Photographer

Diane Frye

I am a Bay Village resident and a volunteer for Village Project. 

Read More on Community Service
Volume 12, Issue 17, Posted 9:36 AM, 09.01.2020