Suppers founder Dorothy Mullen, left, and board member Marion Reinson.

“Do you know about Suppers? Do you know Dor Mullen?” When I answered “no” to both questions, my friend responded, “You need to go to Suppers.”

So I attended a signature Suppers meeting where 10 of us gathered around the table. Some had helped prepare the meal while others cleaned up when we finished. With Dorothy Mullen (known to everyone as Dor) at the head we shared in Suppers’ principles: non-judgment, whole food preparation, non-commercial messages, restoration of the family table.

We also shared the reasons for attending. A few participants had diet-related health issues, others wanted to cook healthier meals for their children, while others, like me, were looking for that support in preparing healthier options for “eaters” who weren’t yet ready to get on board with my journey to better health. And, in the Suppers way, we shared our appreciation for the food that nourishes our mind, body, and spirit.

One of the goals of Suppers is to help people feel comfortable in the kitchen so that preparing healthy, nutritious, and delicious food isn’t so difficult. One of Dor’s mantras is that if you can make a cup of coffee, you can make a pot of soup.

There are three signature Suppers meetings: diagnosis-specific (for diabetes, autoimmune diseases, emotional eating, and brain health concerns), prevention-oriented (for parents of young children or people who want to learn to cook), and eating style-based (vegan).

Meetings are hosted in people’s homes or public gathering spaces such as places of worship and community centers. What is needed is a host, a meeting facilitator, people to work on meal preparation, a functioning kitchen, and a place to gather.

Over the past 10 years hundreds of meetings have been held, many in Dorothy’s kitchen.

This now needs to change, and I and other board members are asking for the community’s help.

The motivation for Suppers is based on caring and sharing and finding the right foods to support your bio-individuality. There is no profit motive. Nothing is being sold other than the belief that we need to be consuming a healthy variety of non-processed foods in order to remain healthy.

Through my involvement I learned that Suppers understands that diets are varied. A ketogenic diet may work for one person and dairy-free or vegan for another. And often people aren’t ready to give up something they crave and that is completely fine; they are in a no-judgement zone. In fact, some start by adding a salad to their dinner or replacing a sugary drink with a healthier option. Incremental change is encouraged, as small differences lead to the ultimate goal of long-term behavior change.

When Dor offered a garden workshop, I learned it was time for me to get back to playing in the dirt. The eight sessions, spring through the fall harvest, provided everything I needed for my garden with the exception of the dirt. We started plants from seed, transplanted items from Dor’s garden, rooted lemon rose geraniums, and harvested other goodies along the way. What I learned, is that if you have a sunny spot where you can fit a pot or a straw bale, you can grow a garden.

Through Suppers, I also learned the difference between a probiotic and a prebiotic, and that you need them because “you are what you eat.” More accurately, you are what you feed the trillions of little microbes that live in your gut. These organisms create a micro-ecosystem called the microbiome. And though we don’t really notice it’s there, it plays an oversized role in your health and can even affect your mood and behavior.

There are two ways to maintain this balance: helping the microbes already there to grow by giving them the foods they like (prebiotic — specialized plant fibers like dark leafy greens) and adding living microbes directly to your system (probiotic — containing live organisms and found in fermented foods and yogurt).

Suppers also collaborates with organic farmers and medical and health practitioners to address issues that relate to both agricultural and health care practices.

And then there are the facilitators who pull a delicious meal together for a group of people and create harmony at the table. It’s because of the time and energy of our trained and devoted facilitators we are able to provide a safe and welcome environment to help support and heal others.

By spending time with Dor, I realized I had an opportunity to help with the structure of the organization and to prepare it for growth. I joined the program as an advisory board member and was asked to officially join the board of trustees in March.

Since then I attended as many Suppers functions as possible and have seen that health and behavior changes happen where we work, live, pray, and play. That includes our expansion into Trenton. Aided by the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Trenton, we helped to create a program for communities in need, including Trenton-based signature meetings and establishing a presence at the Trenton Farmer’s Market.

By the beginning of April the board had created an inventory of everything Suppers; the signature meetings, Suppers labs programs (focused on managing blood sugar and improving brain health), facilitator training programs, workshops, garden program, farmer appreciation dinner, medical partner appreciation dinner — and more.

And, the more work we did, the clearer it became that Dor had put in place almost everything needed to have the organization run without her.

Interestingly enough, our plans to scale the business already focused on ensuring that Suppers was not so Dorothy-centric and in the process of developing a succession strategy.

Then came the diagnosis of Dorothy’s Stage 4 Lung Cancer and the fear Suppers will cease to exist — leaving the Suppers nowhere to go.

So now we are asking for community support as we restructure a Suppers program without Dorothy.

That includes finding suitable venues in which to hold the meetings that were being hosted in Dorothy’s home. A functional commercial kitchen or large residential kitchen with meeting space for 12 to 15 is needed.

And just why should one think of supporting Suppers?

That is simple: We support members of our community the choice to explore and experiment with food as a solution to modern health and social challenges.

If anyone believes in the work Suppers is providing and would like to participate, provide a meeting space, or make a donation, visit www.thesuppersprograms.org or email health@thesuppersprograms.org.

Jennifer’s Story

Jennifer, before joining Suppers.

As a child I was unhealthy and overweight, weighing 200 pounds by the time I was 10. As an adult, my heaviest was 310. I was sick with multiple autoimmune issues. My rock bottom came in 2012, when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I remember feeling powerless. But once I started to do my own research into nutrition, my true journey began. I was converted to eating well and regained my power.

Four years later, when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I immediately searched for nutrition options and began the autoimmune protocol, a restrictive nutrition plan that reduces inflammation. But it wasn’t easy. I struggled over the loss of community around food. It was nearly impossible to eat out, and if I did, I had to bring food with me. I felt uncomfortable in most social situations.

My health coach recommended that I attend a Suppers meeting. At first I was hesitant. The closest meeting was an hour away, and I was intimidated that I wouldn’t know anyone. Now, more than a year later, the friendship, support, and acceptance I’ve found is like nothing I receive elsewhere, these people have had a profound impact on my life.

Jennifer, after joining Suppers.

Today I feel comfortable in any social setting, arriving with a lunchbox on my hip or a can of sardines in my purse. Through Suppers I have learned that nothing comes before my own nutritional need for food that I can enjoy safely.

There is even a ripple effect. I use the model I discovered to share healthy meals with family and friends. My father-in-law has even commented that after dinner in our home, he never has to use his insulin.

Today I am grateful to have a mind clear enough to share my journey. I am grateful to have a healthy relationship with food. I couldn’t be more proud to say that I’ve gone from a size 26 to a size 8, losing and maintaining a 125-pound weight loss. I was blessed celebrating six years cancer free, and my rheumatoid arthritis is in remission. Today I am living free from the effects of disease — all because I believed in the healing power of food.

Thank you, Dorothy, for creating an organization that has impacted all of our lives so deeply. Thank you for making a place where we all truly feel at home.

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