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'Filling to the soul'

Posted by | Catholic Charities Communications

Nothing expresses love like a good meal, tenderly prepared.

Chris Ideson, founder and head chef of CI Lifestyle Meals in Portland, has been dishing out helpings of tender regard at Kenton Women’s Village, a tiny home community operated by Catholic Charities of Oregon.

For every 10 already-prepared meals ordered by customers, Ideson donates one meal to people in need. Each week on Sundays and Wednesdays, he arrives at the Kenton property in North Portland with bags of individually packaged delectables like Jamaican beef stew, cider chicken with goat cheese and apples, grilled Tuscan chicken salad and roasted plum sockeye salmon. All the containers are compostable.

“I can’t sing, and I can’t draw but I can cook,” said Ideson, a bearded and powerfully built man who says he is motivated by religious belief.

“I’m grateful for what God’s given me,” said Ideson, 49. “I want to give back.”

Seven years ago, he was a high-flying executive at a San Diego restaurant company when he realized he wanted and needed a life change. Travel was keeping him away from his family.

“I was missing too much of my kids’ lives,” said the single father.

So he took what he learned over years in the business, consulted his conscience and came up with an idea: Prepare tasty and healthy meals so other people will have more time with their families. Then tithe — that’s a Judeo-Christian tradition in which believers donate a tenth of what they earn.

“You stop chasing the titles and the money and give in to being more present as a father and being more involved in the community,” Ideson said.

CI Lifestyle Meals, founded six and a half years ago, has donated almost 26,000 meals in the Portland area. It started in Ideson’s home kitchen and has expanded to a Southeast Portland site that employs eight kitchen staff and 14 delivery drivers.

“This combines my love for cooking with my love for business,” Ideson said. “And I like taking care of people.”

His business motto: “Change lives one meal at a time.”

Lunette Wimberly and Rosie Walker give chef Chris Ideson a tour of the community room at Kenton Women’s Village.

In addition to Kenton Women’s Village, Ideson donates meals to the YWCA and to individuals who have faced tragedy like the death of a child. A warm meal, he said, offers “peace and comfort.”

Ideson hopes to expand his business, since that’s what entrepreneurs do, and because the more he sells, the more he can donate.

“I make things people would not cook for themselves,” said Ideson, who is influenced by Italian cuisine. He offers an array of meal options, including low sodium and low carbs. A CrossFit practitioner with the muscle to prove it, he has arrangements with gyms in which people pick up meals after working out.

But even as the business grows, he tends to family first. His children, now 17 and 15, attend Portland Christian High School.

Ideson may not realize how much the people at Kenton Women’s Village see him as family.

On a mild November day, he made his usual drop-off at Kenton. But staff and residents had a surprise ready.

Valerie Yvette Peterson, a case manager who is also a poet, recited a poem just after the loving chef walked in, musclebound arms full of lunches.

“Happiness, while at the Village

means a delicious hot meal coming through the gate;

filled with decadent ingredients, portions loaded on each plate,” Peterson said.

She went on:

“It means no more hunger because your love for us comes without a price,

Comes without walls, comes without borders, it’s all your care and sacrifice.”

Cherie Hadley, supervisor of Kenton Women’s Village, listens as case manager Valerie Yvette Peterson recites an original poem in honor of chef Chris Ideson, who brings meals to the tiny home village twice per week.

Chatting before Ideson arrived, Peterson said many wonderful donors come now and then. Ideson, she explained, distinguishes himself by being so steadfast – twice a week, every week.

“People who give selflessly find a way,” Peterson said. “It’s a mindset for Chris.”

“When women get here, they have nothing but the shirts on their backs,” villager Rosie Walker told Ideson. “But when someone gives them one of your meals, they have hope.”

“His food’s incredible. He’s so generous,” said Cherie Hadley, supervisor of Kenton Women’s Village. “He saves people from going hungry. When he offers the women that meal, it just lights up their eyes.”

Hadley said Ideson does a lot behind the scenes. “It’s not about bragging. It’s about helping people,” she said.

Hadley salutes him for making nutritious food that is so good. Villagers agree.

“There I was wolfing down what I thought was mashed potatoes, only to learn it was pureed cauliflower,” said Walker. “But I didn’t care. It was just delicious.”

Villager Lunette Wimberly said she didn’t have healthy food before coming to Kenton Women’s Village. Ideson’s meals have changed the way she eats.

“Now I know what I like and what makes me feel good,” Wimberly said. “This is filling to the soul.”

For more information, go to cilifestylemeals.com or call 503-869-3564.