When Marsha Millay took the job as Nutritional Services Coordinator at Merryman House Domestic Crisis Center, she was admittedly a little nervous about it. She’d begun her career years earlier in the Army serving as a chef in a headquarters company (a company-sized military unit) and then moved to Kentucky to work at a senior living center.
Now weary of the corporate world, Marsha knew it was time for a change. However, she struggled with her own complicated past. “As a child I came from a background of abuse,” she says. “And for a while, I thought I couldn’t help anybody because I was so caught up with what happened to me.”
At Merryman House, Marsha was soon confronted with the reality of a child who had recently experienced domestic violence. Overwhelmed, she wondered if she’d made the right move. After overcoming her hesitance, “I made up my mind I can do this,” she says. Marsha quickly realized just the opposite of what she feared is true. “I found out I, maybe better than anybody, can serve those young clients. Whenever they come and sit in my office and talk to me, I know exactly what they’re saying; I understand. I am able to use the experience I had as I child.”
For the last year, Marsha has put all her training to the test cooking up carefully calculated meals to feed clients often deprived because of the stressful and difficult situations they’ve recently escaped. “I hit them with as many nutrients as possible,” she explains. “Not fried food, not fatty foods, but fruits and veggies. Everything we make here we make from scratch. A soup will take three to three and a half hours, every day. Vegetables are cut fresh every day.”
Those healthy meals are quick to impact her clients, especially the youngest ones.
“The first time they come through the line they’ll sometimes eat for 45 solid minutes; they don’t even lift their head up to see what’s around them. It takes several days for them to get accustomed. The kids are afraid the food will end,” Marsha says.
After a few months in her new position, Marsha dreamed up “The Cookie Project” as a means to raise money to help fund educational programs, some of which are focused on food preparation and nutrition, “We take children to the grocery store,” she explains. “I educate them on what things look like before I cook them.” She also hosts a regular Wednesday afternoon cooking class. “Our clients decide what they want to master. In September, we learned how to make a Thanksgiving meal.”
Fortunately, The Cookie Project is a hit. Marcia’s four delicious signature cookies: chocolate chip, white macadamia nut, peanut butter, and English toffee are available for purchase. Orders placed Wednesday by 4 PM are ready for pick-up Friday after 8:30 AM. “A lot of area businesses now are buying cookies as gifts for their clients,” says Marsha.
While her work is rewarding, Marsha has no illusions about the difficulties inherent in serving those who have experienced domestic violence. She is quick to admit her own originally biased thinking on the subject. “I used to have that attitude, like a lot of people, about ladies suffering abuse,” she says. ‘Why don’t they just go? Why don’t they just leave?’”
What she’s learned is that it’s just not that simple. “The training here is amazing,” she says. “Mary Foley [Merryman House Executive Director] sees to it that we are well trained and focused. It’s a step-by-step recovery program, and, unfortunately, some clients do go back to their abuser.”
Many go back, but some return to the Center. And when they do, Marsha is waiting.
“When they come back, we begin again. Meanwhile, I get to work with children every day,” she says. “I can’t think of a better job.”