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In time of social distancing, local chef, baker spread goodwill

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BRATTLEBORO — Nicole Reisman, a Brattleboro resident and chef by trade, calls cooking for others her "love language."

"It's just a natural thing for me to do," she said. "It's the way I show people generosity and love."

When people everywhere became housebound due to fears of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, Reisman got busy, using her skills to help her fellow Southern Vermonters in this time of social isolation.

Over the past couple of weeks, Reisman, 50, has cooked more than 30 free meals for local families, leaving the packaged food outside doors and phoning the people inside. On a recent day, she said a recipient came outside to thank her, but they remained about 12 feet apart.

"It's all still fairly ambiguous," she said of the pandemic. "There's a lot of unknowns. I just think that everyone needs a little TLC right now."

To make people aware of her generosity, she has posted on social media, including in "Brattleboro, Vermont," a public group on Facebook. A March 17 post stating, "Hello, if anyone is in need of a hot meal, please reach out to me," has garnered over 30 reactions, including both "Likes" and "Loves."

When preparing the food, she said she practices "strict hygiene," which includes the use of sterile gloves.

Meals she has prepared include Ragu Bolognese, corned beef and cabbage, chicken pot pies and fish dishes. She said she speaks with everyone who contacts her about any dietary restrictions.

Ella Kinsman, 25, of Brattleboro, is among those to receive a meal from Reisman. Kinsman said she has several chronic health problems and is moderately immunosuppressed, putting her at risk of serious complications if exposed to the virus.

Reisman brought Kinsman vegan eggplant Parmesan pasta, bread and a salad. On the morning of March 19, Kinsman took to the Brattleboro Facebook group to express her gratitude.

"As we set the table and dug into our meal, I nearly cried from gratitude," Kinsman wrote in her post. "There was so much food we were able to share it with our housemates who arrived later that night — passing on the love and spirit of the gift."

Kinsman later said Reisman's gesture "made my week," and she shared her experience as a way to spread good news and encourage more acts of kindness.

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"The more examples that folks have of positive ways that people are responding, I think the more that those things continue to happen," she said.

Another Brattleboro resident, Millicent Cooley, 65, is offering to bake and deliver sourdough bread both as an act of kindness on her part and to encourage kindness among her neighbors. She reached out to the public in the same Brattleboro Facebook group where Reisman and Kinsman posted.

"I have two goals," she wrote in a March 17 post. "1) Give away tasty homemade bread. 2) Remind people that in these challenging times, we must always work at being kind, at listening to what is really going on with the other. And give people a break."

She wrote that if she sees someone acting unkindly toward another poster, she will not bring them bread, and if she sees a poster acting with compassion, that individual will get priority for bread.

Her post has received more than 200 reactions and over 80 comments.

"I think that people really do care about morale in the community, and supporting morale," she said later. "I'm going to do this as long as I can for the foreseeable future."

She said she can be reached via the Brattleboro Facebook group.

Cooley said she uses sterile gloves as she wraps her cooked bread, and like Reisman, leaves the bread outside recipients' doors. 

Reisman said she hopes people will rally behind her cause and donate food so she can continue to cook for others. She has also requested aluminum pans.

"Food — good food — is comforting, and that's what I hope to do for people, is provide them with a healthy, delicious meal, and give them comfort — food for the soul."

Reisman can be reached through the Facebook group, and also by email: chefnicolereisman@gmail.com

Gena Mangiaratti is assistant editor of Southern Vermont Landscapes.


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