Always Open: Clara’s Canning Serves ‘Most in Need’
A natural in the kitchen — canning, cooking, baking — thanks to grandma Clara, Ona Lee definitely has a heart to serve. When #COVID19 happened, the creator of Clara's Canning Co. put everything on the line and applied all her skills toward "Meals to the Vulnerable" with a friend. Welcome Magazine has her moving story.
“I knew between being a card-carrying safe food handler for 16 years and my experience with cancer patients that I could be of service.”
Abundance. Love. Protection.
That’s pretty much what Ona Lee is all about. She built up Clara’s Canning Co. in Bellingham from the legacy of her grandmother, the farmer’s daughter and farmer’s wife who taught canning, sewing, baking, and cooking those childhood summers in eastern Washington.
When grandma Clara passed on in 2013, Lee jumped in to share what she learned with others, crafting her own little place in the world, foraging for nature’s gifts to pour into her labors of love, canning, baking, cooking, catering, serving…now more than ever.
Clara’s Canning Co. is the sum total of all Lee learned growing up under her grandma’s care. Lee, a single mom, has cared for two terminally ill parents, stricken by cancer, her mother barely able to withstand the financial storm, and so, is passionate about passing on that care to others, accelerated by this terrible COVID-19.
A longtime certified food handler, Lee and a friend decided to roll up their sleeves and be of service to the most vulnerable among us, by preparing and delivering home-cooked meals on a sliding scale, or free, depending on the financial circumstances.
How have you been handling the COVID crisis? At first, I was very worried, about many loved ones at risk. Especially people with low- or no income. Both of my parents went through terminal cancer battles, my mother without much financial resources.
My first thought was deep sorrow. I lost my brand-new brunch popup that was at ANMLY Cafe here in Bellingham, at a bit of a loss. But within a day or so, I thought to myself, “People still need food. I just need to figure out how to get anyone, money or not, good healthy food that supports local growers.”
My friend Ashley Duffus Jambor also lost her brand-new solo massage practice after putting in so much work. We put our heads together and just got moving.
With my experience caretaking for people with compromised immune systems, I knew our food also had to be prepared safely and designed to heat above pathogen transmission levels. I knew between being a card-carrying safe food handler for 16 years and my experience with cancer patients that I could be of service.
We have served hundreds of meals since March 15th, 2020. About 3/4s of which are greatly reduced or free to people on hold for chemo treatments and with high-risk factors. Many have us as their only source of safe food, as leaving or preparing meals is a great hardship. That part gives me joy, that even in our sorrow, we can take moments to feel how we feel, but keep going anyways.
What’s the response been from your customers? The response from our customers has been great. We have worked rapidly to expand our offerings and be there in anyway we can.
People are really enjoying the food and letting us know they can rest better knowing that at least they won’t be hungry. For folks who can pay, we get great reception.
The meals do not repeat the same way ever, the offerings go with the flow of the seasons and I am able to use my wide range of cooking experiences to put every bit of love I have into what I do.
Many people tell us they can feel it and honestly that brings tears. It’s not really me, I don’t really want to take credit. There’s a group of folks working with us, from farmers, volunteers, my admin. Ashley, local groups, and community members making this possible. People can feel the support and it is exactly why I do this.
Any cool gift ideas for Mother’s Day? I am a floral designer baker, I create one-of-a-kind cakes for any-sized occasion, down to one single person. I am open to doing these for a sliding scale, as well as full price.
These cakes are like an edible bouquet, because not only is there cake, I only use non-toxic, freshly foraged flowers that can be eaten.
I am also a mother, so I love getting to treat others as I would like to have for myself. I also will do custom meals for special days, I think having a meal prepared and delivered is a great gift for any parent.
Do you have any gift cards? This is the link for our gift cards, good for all of our meals/services in Bellingham and products we ship anywhere in the country. People can also contact us via email at email@example.com.
How can people support your business? People can go to our website and order meals at regular prices, cakes, baked items (that can be shipped anywhere in the USA), donate to subsidize meals for those in need, and most importantly, share what we are doing. That helps us not only gain support and resources, but it helps us find new people in need. We are working to expand as fast as we can.