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Judy Schmidt (L) with Marian Minninger in Jennings, LA.

Judy Schmidt likes to cook—even for 20 or more people at a time.

That’s what the 66-year-old retired banker was doing in March, where she served as head cook for a month with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) in Jennings, Lousiana.

For Schmidt, who attends the Selkirk, Man. Community Church (Mennonite Brethren), it was the seventh time volunteering with MDS, all except one time as a cook.

Prior to going to Jennings, where volunteers are repairing damage to houses from hurricanes Delta and Laura in 2020, she served in Florida, South Dakota, California, South Carolina and Mississippi.

“It’s a big job preparing breakfast and supper for 20-25 people each week,” she said. “But it’s important and fulfilling. Volunteers need lots of good food to be able to serve each day.”

A typical weekday as a cook finds her rising at 5 a.m. to get breakfast ready. “It’s get up, wash, brush my hair and teeth, get dressed and go,” she said.

In addition to making breakfast, Schmidt and the assistant cook—in Jennings, it was Marian Minninger of Stuarts Draft, Virginia—get things like bread, butter, cold meat, vegetables, drinks, cookies, chips and other items ready so volunteers can make their lunches at 6:30 a.m.

After breakfast and devotions, volunteers leave for work about 8 a.m. Then it’s time for clean up and to think about supper.

“Sometimes it also means a trip to the grocery store to get food for the next few days,” Schmidt said.

It sounds like a lot of work, “but it’s not to bad as long as there are enough helping hands,” she said, noting volunteers help with clean up and dishwashing at supper.

Things usually go smoothly, but when they don’t the mantra for MDS cooks kicks in. “Be prepared for anything and, if things go wrong, improvise,” Schmidt said.

Volunteers enjoying great food prepared by Judy and Marian in Jennings.

What really helps is to have a good kitchen, as in the gym where volunteers stay and eat at the Church of Christ in Jennings.

“The kitchen well laid out, it’s close to the eating area, and there are good commercial grade appliances,” she said.

While Schmidt appreciates being in a warmer climate for a month, like in Louisiana, getting away from snow and cold is not a huge reason for why Schmidt serves with MDS.

“I like winter, although I don’t mind a little reprieve now and then,” she said.

What she does like is meeting people, making friends, and seeing people get back home following a natural disaster. “When you are there for a longer time, you get to attend home dedications,” she said. “That is really special.”

As for why she volunteers with MDS, it “gives me purpose, joy and meaning,” said Schmidt, who retired in 2016 after 40 years at ScotiaBank.

“It’s a way I can give back, to help those who need help. As long as my health allows, I will continue to do it.”

MDS needs more people to serve in leadership roles such as cooks. To volunteer, contact Rose Klassen at rklassen@mds.org

John Longhurst, MDS Canada Communications

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