FITCHBURG – If you’ve been battling over a turkey and sides to serve to a Thanksgiving crowd and you’re happy to only do it once a year, think Michelle Ogilvie.

Ogilvie, as a volunteer, cooks about 150 hot, wholesome, hearty meals each week, then gives them all away.

They go to feed people suffering from homelessness, often serving as the best meal of the day. Ogilvie takes care of meal planning, recipe research, grocery shopping, and everything else he cooks and bakes in his Fitchburg kitchen. On his “off” days, he volunteers for Meals on Wheels, delivering food and some human touch to people who are homebound.

Michelle Ogilvie in the kitchen with muffins

Chocolate corn muffins and sweet potato pecan patties chilled on a rack in Michelle Ogilvie’s Fitchburg kitchen. Ogilvie, who cooks Thanksgiving treats for the nonprofit Housing Initiatives, routinely prepares about 150 full meals each week for people suffering from homelessness.

AMBER ARNOLD, Lee Newspapers

Beef stew, meatloaf, roasted chili, chicken pot pie: when Michelle Ogilvie brings a load of hot comfort food to the day homeless shelter at a downtown Madison church, word gets around.

People are also reading…

“People will run up to me on the street and say, ‘I heard you were here today!’” he said.

Michelle Ogilvie's Mini Pecan Pies

Volunteer Michelle Ogilvie baked mini pecan pies and other treats this week for Housing Initiatives, an organization that helps find supportive permanent housing for people with mental illness.

AMBER ARNOLD, Lee Newspapers

“He cooks loudly like he would cook for his family. Everyone loves Michelle’s food,” said Karen Andro, case manager and continuing care specialist for Housing Initiatives and a longtime advocate for homeless people.

“It’s like homemade comfort food,” Andro said. Ogilvie “is amazing. He’s just an unsung hero in our community. Of everyone in this community who has endured crises and trauma and experienced homelessness, everyone knows Michelle.

Ogilvie, usually avoiding the spotlight, serves weekly meals to the 29 residents of Dairy Drive, the city’s first tiny legal encampment on the Far East Side.

“Michelle has been absolutely incredible in her support of this project,” said Siddiq DeShazer, a campground liaison at Machkabba Gardens who works at the site. For a camper’s birthday, she’ll bring their favorite candy, DeShazer said. “She meets Li on a human level. She is very present with people ”.

On Tuesday, Ogilvie baked dozens of single-serving pecan pies, cornbread muffins, and more for an upcoming celebration for Housing Initiatives, a nonprofit that works to find supportive permanent housing for people with serious mental illnesses and persistent. On Wednesday, she made hot mashed potatoes and gravy for their meal.

Michelle Ogilvie's food diary

In a food diary, Michelle Ogilvie tracks the meals she has served to homeless people so she can vary the menu.

AMBER ARNOLD, Lee Newspapers

Ogilvie scours the Wednesday paper for specials, especially on meat, at area grocery stores. He orders individual containers of bulk food from Amazon to package meals for Dairy Drive so residents can take them back to the shelters they live in and then reheat them in a microwave oven.

Each meal is carefully recorded in a spreadsheet on his laptop so Ogilvie can keep track of what he’s served and the feedback he’s received.

“I don’t want to keep sending out the same meal all the time,” said Ogilvie, who is certified in food safety and has been working with the homeless population for a decade.

She also keeps track of the meals she serves on the spreadsheet: 4,430 so far this year.

Ogilvie, who spends 20 or more hours a week providing meals, said she couldn’t do it without the support of her husband Alan.

“It’s my passion and he’s a huge support. We are lucky that we can do this,” she said. Her family, including her 19- and 23-year-old children when they pass by, receive the same home-cooked meals she brings to the community.

Ogilvie first became involved in serving the homeless through First United Methodist Church, where she helped with food pantry, she said.

“The food pantry was closed during the pandemic, but we have started making emergency bags to go to people in need. So we were still very much involved in food distribution,” she said.

There she met Andro, who connected her to the need for daily hot meals at Dairy Drive.

Love of vegetables

“Originally, when I signed on, I was going to (cook) one meal a week,” Ogilvie said. “That expanded because they couldn’t get their needs met. Some of the other vendors had to drop out, so I switched to two days a week. At my best, I was doing up to three days a week.

She steers clear of cheaper pasta dishes, instead whipping up meat-filled entrees alongside side dishes like salads.

“The things people get most excited about are salads and fresh fruit. They love salads,” she said. “The reality is, the homeless have access to foods high in sugar and fat, but people fall into their wits when I make a salad with fresh tomatoes.”

Ogilvie usually carries around a bag with condiments like salad dressing. If he cooks up a “taco-y” dish like taco casserole, he also provides extras like sour cream and guacamole, luxuries people rarely get.

Little John’s, Friends of State Street Family and One Love One Lunch organizations also provide meals at Dairy Drive, and Our Savior Deaf Lutheran Church, located near the encampment, also provides a weekly hot meal at their church, Ogilvie said. The site also hosted a food cart and was serviced by a Milwaukee nonprofit for a while, DeShazer said.

It’s time to visit

When Ogilvie delivers meals to Dairy Drive from the back of his Honda CR-V, she too stays for an hour or two talking. She gets feedback on campers’ favorite meals, but she also hears what they’re going through in life.

“People are literally so happy that someone is listening to them and bringing them something they want,” she said.

“As you start getting to know people and talking to people, you realize, wow, it could be anyone,” she said. “It could be anyone I know. Sometimes someone has made a bad financial decision at some point in their life, or something else has happened, and you realize that they are someone’s father, sister, brother, or daughter.

Sometimes they recommend great dishes to her, like when Ogilvie got a request for stuffed peppers, something she’s never made before.

“It’s nice to know that, even in that small way, you’re making a difference for someone,” she said, “that they’re getting a meal.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *