Day 2: One Hour, One Book, Huge Difference

Meredith DeLeeuw has created her own #VolunteerOdyssey in order to get to know Memphis better and give back to her new community. She’ll be volunteering with 8 nonprofits and sharing her experience through her blog. 

On Day 2 she volunteered with Read to Me at St. Jude. Check out her story below!


If you had asked me 6 months ago where St. Jude Hospital was located, I would have hem hawed and said multiple locations such as Washington D.C. or New York.  I was absolutely floored when I realized that the St. Jude Hospital that I saw on my first drive under the M bridge, was THE St. Jude.  Wow!  I would never have guessed it was only one hospital and that hospital was here in Memphis.  When I was picking my locations for my volunteer journey, I knew St. Jude had to be on there.  That’s where the Read to Me at St. Jude program comes in.  This program was started by a longtime volunteer of St. Jude, Simone Meeks.  In fact, it was her 15-year anniversary with St. Jude the day I volunteered!  Congrats Simone!  She started this program with the knowledge that a lot of Memphians would love to volunteer at St. Jude, but they do not have the time to commit to multiple hours each week.  With Read to Me, a volunteer gives back once a month for an hour over their lunch break.  Each month, a few volunteers get the opportunity to greet children in the waiting rooms and help them pick out a book to either be read to or to take home.

I was overcome with the enormity of my experience from the first moment I drove into the St. Jude campus.  Here I was getting to volunteer for the children of St. Jude.  How many people are lucky enough to have the chance to say that?  I met up with Simone and we headed with the books cart to the waiting rooms.  The momentimage1 (1) we walked into the first waiting room, all the children stopped what they were doing and curiously looked at what we were doing.  Most kids were more than happy to come up and pick a book off the cart.  We had all types of books for all ages and my favorite, coloring books!  I was so excited when my first child asked me to read a book to them.  The first book I read was about a little girl who ordered a unicorn, but got a goat.  I cannot begin to describe how adorable this book was and how much it made the patient smile.  The gratitude from the parents was almost as fantastic as the smiles from the children.  Throughout my hour, I got to read books, draw, talk about unicorns and superheroes, and play with all kinds of toys.  I hope that my small contribution helped take away their fear and nerves of being at the doctor, if only for an hour.  My only complaint is that I did not want to leave!

Read to Me is always looking for volunteers to help brighten a child’s day!  It is a great way to use a little time to make a big difference.  They also need donations of new books for their book cart.  Each child gets to take a book home if they would like, so they are always in need of books, but they must be new.  A huge thank you goes out to Simone who so graciously gave me the chance to volunteer at St. Jude.  I am already counting down the days until I get to go back next month!

One hour does indeed make a difference!



If you’d like to volunteer for Read to Me at St. Jude like Meredith,

Day 1: Sustainable Gardens for Sustainable Communities

Meredith DeLeeuw has created her own #VolunteerOdyssey in order to get to know Memphis better and give back to her new community. She’ll be volunteering with 8 nonprofits and sharing her experience through her blog. 

On Day 1 she volunteered with Memphis Tilth. Check out her story below!


I started out my week of volunteering, outside on a perfect, sunny summer day. I was so excited to get my hands dirty and do some gardening for Memphis Tilth. Memphis Tilth is a relatively new non-profit organization that combined multiple local initiatives whose missions all included creating a sustainable and environmentally sound local food system. I volunteered for Grow Memphis, one of the initiatives now housed within Memphis Tilth. Their mission is to help communities build gardens and give residents access to locally grown food. So far, Grow Memphis has helped start over 55 community gardens around the Memphis area. I met up with Jennifer, the lead gardener for the St. Paul’s Garden, and she gave me a quick tour of Memphis Tilth’s headquarters and the garden. The garden only started last August from a vacant lot, that once stood houses and a butcher shop, but now it is a thriving community of its own.  It houses almost every type of produce you could ever dream of. Okra, blackberries, squash, strawberries, zucchini, pumpkins, watermelons, beets, garlic, sweet potatoes, stevia, all kinds of herbs, and more!

The first thing I noticed was how everyone in the neighborhood stopped and greeted us with a good morning or a wave. Within minutes you could see the impact the gardens have already had on the community. After my tour, we got to business weeding some of the raised beds and in ground bed. Next, we planted garlic, sunflowers, wildflowers, radishes, and beets. The gardens are starting to wind down from the summer crop and so they are planting more squash, radishes, garlic, and more fall type produce. All of this produce goes to the local communities to give everyone access to fresh, local, and sustainable food. They even have worm beds where the small, red worms work on composting food scraps from the kitchens at Memphis Tilth. Just a small handful of this by product is all the fertilizer the plants need in the gardens. So cool!

Along with producing food for the community and for other Memphis Tilth initiatives, the garden staff teach classes to people who want to learn how to garden. These classes are a wonderful way to learn about sustainable gardening from beginner to pro. They are even teaching people how to make a new kind of sweet tea, one with stevia leaves instead of sugar. I had never tasted an actual stevia leaf, but oh man, do yourself a favor and grow some. It is so delicious and great in tea!

The garden also collects seeds from all the produce they plant. They then package these seeds and use them to plant their next round of crops or give them to other communities to start gardens with. Grow Memphis even started a “seed library” at the Memphis Public Library where you can go check out seeds to grow at home. After you harvest all your food, you then collect your seeds and give them back to library for someone else to use. What an ingenious idea! Memphis Tilth is currently looking for a seed intern to help them collect seeds around community gardens and catalog those seeds in the library. This would be a great internship for someone looking to learn more about sustainable farming and sustainable policy. If interested, you can apply on Volunteer Odyssey’s website or send a resume to with the email subject labeled “Seed Saving Internship”.

Overall, I had the most amazing day with Jennifer and Memphis Tilth! I cannot thank them enough for allowing me the chance to work with my hands and plant some food that will hopefully grow and help feed my new community. They always need volunteers in the garden as well as in their kitchens preparing bags of fresh produce for families in need, hospitals, and other local Memphians. I know I will be back soon!

As always, support your local farmers and community gardens!

If you’d like to volunteer at Memphis Tilth like Meredith, visit



Prologue: Meredith DeLeeuw

My Memphis journey is a long and winding road that started last November. My husband was in the middle of interview season for his internal medicine residency when he received an invitation to interview at UT Memphis. I had never been to Memphis, so I figured it would be a fun trip to join him and explore a new city. We were only here for 24 hours, but somehow this city had already found a place in my heart. Fast forward to March of this year, where I found myself in a room full of 4th year medical students counting down the seconds until they opened the envelope that held their future. We were filled with nerves and excitement of new beginnings. We opened his envelope together and both saw UT Memphis at the same time. I didn’t know whether to be absolutely thrilled that we matched where I was hoping we would or scared to death about moving away from Texas, our families, and friends. Texas has always been home to me, so moving to another state was daunting. A couple months ago, we finally made the big move to the Mid-South. I cannot begin to describe the generosity and kindness we have experienced so far! Everyone genuinely wants to make Memphis better. It is so inspiring! Memphians are truly one of a kind.

In late July, I went home to see my mom, and on the flight back I met one of the sweetest people I have ever had the pleasure to know. We started talking about how I am currently looking for a job in Memphis, especially one that would allow me to give back to my new community. She mentioned Volunteer Odyssey as a way to get started giving back to Memphis and potentially find the job I’ve been dreaming about. After meeting with Sarah, I knew that this was the perfect opportunity for me to give back and learn more about Memphis in the process.

I will be volunteering with 8 different organizations over the next week and blogging about my experiences with each. I hope that my blog inspires you to get involved with one of these great organizations! I cannot wait to get started giving back to the community that has already been more generous than I could have ever imagined!

Cooking The World

Cooking The World By Molly Pollaty 

I love to cook, but I have never gotten the hang of how to cook just for me.  In fact, my neighbors have grown to love my ability to make generous servings of favorite dishes! Knowing this, my friend, Sarah Petschonek, offered me a fun yet daunting opportunity. She asked me to teach a cooking class to a group of folks at the Neighborhood Christian Center in Orange Mound. I’ve never taught a cooking class before, much less to women on a very limited budget. It was a challenge that excited me – sharing my love of food and cooking with people who perhaps were tasting some of these things for the first time. My picky-eater nieces will tell you I am constantly trying to expand their palates.

Immediately I started thinking about what dish I could share. It shouldn’t be too fancy or exotic as I wanted everyone attending, despite their level of cooking ability, to enjoy it so much that they would want to recreate the dish at home and not be intimidated by the ingredients or cost. After considering several ideas and rejecting them for a variety of reasons – time, cost and complexity, I settled on stir fry. It was just interesting enough without being too weird, and the recipe can be broken into three basic componentsNCC Cooking Class 1whatever protein you have or want, whatever vegetables you have or want and whatever sauce/seasonings you have or want. It can be served with rice, noodles or just by itself.

On the day of the cooking class. I did most of my prep ahead of time since I knew I had only an hour to cook and serve the group. I started with marinated pork, my cheater veggie – broccoli slaw mix, mushrooms, fresh baby kale (because it was on manager markdown), onions, peppers, fresh cilantro and frozen edamame (salted and steamable). I also brought an example of a store brand frozen stir fry veggie blend to show that fresh isn’t required. Some of the attendees hadn’t heard of edamame and didn’t realize it was a great source of protein- in fact, we discussed a lot about sources of protein. I let them taste a plain bean and some fresh cilantro- and loved them! We sniffed toasted sesame oil and Chinese five spice. They were a little unsure of both until they tasted the finished product.

NCC Cooking Class 3We talked about substitutions and cooking vehicles, Asian markets and Kroger manager markdowns. We chatted about the smoke point of various cooking oils and the benefits of one over another- I used peanut oil because of the high smoke point. Using my well-loved wok, we worked through my (embarrassingly) large collection of Asian condiments for them to taste and try. The hits out of the lot were the Sriracha and the Thai sweet chili sauce.

At the end of our time together, the smell had enticed additional visitors and employees who got to enjoy a plate since we made a LOT of stir fry. I gave away all the leftovers and promised to share the Asian flavors list I had put together.  We had a great time exploring a new dish, breaking down the ingredients and flavors, and enjoying the product of our success together. I hope they ask me back. I’ve already decided that next time I would cook something Latin. I make a mean fish tostada.