Giving thanks by giving food

| Bridget Ryder | November 17, 2015 | 0 Comments
Lucas Hobbs, 13, who was diagnosed in January with Hodgkin lymphoma, serves from a food truck Nov. 3 at Catholic Charities’ Dorothy Day Center in downtown St. Paul. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Lucas Hobbs, 13, who was diagnosed in January with Hodgkin lymphoma, serves from a food truck Nov. 3 at Catholic Charities’ Dorothy Day Center in downtown St. Paul. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

13-year-old foodie fighting Hodgkin lymphoma uses wish to feed others

Lunch at the Dorothy Day Center in downtown St. Paul wasn’t the usual fare on Nov. 3. Two commercial food trucks, World Street Kitchen and Hot Indian Foods, pulled up and opened their windows to feed for free the hundreds of people who depend on Catholic Charities for their midday meal.

It was 13-year-old Lucas Hobbs’ way of saying thanks to all those who supported him while he was undergoing treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma.

For the five months after his diagnosis in January, Hobbs, a parishioner of St. John Neumann in Eagan, endured intense chemotherapy and radiation, surgeries and blood transfusions that took away not only the cancer, but also his appetite.

“The worst part was never knowing how I was going to feel,” Hobbs said of the treatments.

Most days, the kid who loved to cook and eat didn’t want to take a single bite. But when he had a good day and his appetite came back momentarily, he appreciated the great meals that his fellow parishioners brought him and his family. They were bright spots in a bleak period of his young life.

Then in March, he received the opportunity to wish through Make-A-Wish Minnesota, a chapter of the national organization that grants the wishes of people between the ages of 2 1/2 and 18 who have a life-threatening illness. Clients do not have to be terminal. They are referred by their hospitals.

“A wish can be anything,” said Helen Ng, marketing and communications director of Make-A-Wish Minnesota. “They can wish to go somewhere, meet someone, be someone or give it back. A wish is seen as something that will give a child hope, strength and joy during the time they need it the most.”

Wishes also involve the whole family, since caring for a seriously ill member is stressful and often involves periods of separation for hospitalization or treatments. Hobbs’ family includes his parents, Matt and Sarah Hobbs, and his four siblings: Brendan, 17, Madeline, 10, Owen, 9, and Julia, 5.

When volunteers from Make-A-Wish asked what Lucas wanted, he and his family were at a loss. Hobbs’ father said the family didn’t have a particular desire and, since he is a pilot for Delta Airlines, they already have opportunities to travel.

“That’s when I started to think if I could use my wish to help others, because when I was sick, people were really nice to me,” said Lucas, whose illness is now in remission.

That evening, the family watched the 2014 movie “Chef,” the story of a chef who takes his young son on a cross-country trip in a food truck. Then at the dinner table, it struck them.

“Lucas said, ‘How about a food truck?’ And we all just kind of laughed,” Matt said. “Then it hit us all at once — that’s it.”

Make-A-Wish Minnesota approached the Minnesota Food Truck Association, and nine vendors volunteered to help fulfill Lucas’ wish. With the fleet of trucks, Lucas and his family held six events and fed thousands of people. In August, the Hobbses brought three food trucks to their parish picnic, and in the following weeks held events at Lucas’ school, the Minneapolis police department, his grandmother’s senior living community, the Minneapolis Children’s Hospital, and finally, the Dorothy Day Center, where Lucas and his family have regularly volunteered.

At each event, Lucas worked the food trucks. He learned to roll a burrito while working at World Street Kitchen at the Dorothy Day Center.

“He was so busy working it was hard to even see him,” said Wendy Boppert, program manager at Dorothy Day. “Afterwards, he had one burrito that was saved just for him. He was so full of life, and I think felt really accomplished.”

For Hobbs, reaching out to others gave him the emotional healing that a wish is meant to bring about.

“When I had the Make-A-Wish event, it made me feel really happy, and it made me forget what happened to me in the past,” Lucas said.

According to Ng, of the more than 300 kids that Make-A-Wish Minnesota works with each year, only a handful use their wish to help others.

Luckily, unlike cancer, happiness is contagious.

“People [at the Dorothy Day Center] were crying. It was very emotional for them to understand that here’s this kid who is very sick, and he wanted his wish to be to feed people,” Boppert said. “There is something about a gift that is given from the heart, and it was very much what this felt like for our clients, that this was from the heart.”

Lucas’ wish has garnered national attention. He has been a guest on “The Rachael Ray Show,” where the celebrity cook gave him $10,000, and interviewed on “NBC Nightly News.”

To continue his wish to “do good with food,” Lucas decided to use the money from Ray to create a nonprofit, ChefLucasFood, which launched in September. Its mission is to bring good food to families with a member who has cancer. The Hobbs family will work with restaurants, chefs and food trucks to give families a meal at a fine restaurant or chef-designed meal kits to cook at home. They’ll also bring back the food trucks for community thank-you events. The board of the new nonprofit includes John Levy, president of the Minnesota Food Truck Association, and Turner Berg, president of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Mendota Heights.

For Lucas, fulfilling his wish has come down to serving others.

“It’s been and extremely positive thing in terms of him understanding the importance of service,” Matt said. “And more or less, he may have found his calling.”

Lucas said when he grows up, he wants to be a policeman or a chef.

Find more information about ChefLucasFood.

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