Though they've been Palo Alto neighbors for nearly 50 years, Judy Deggeller and Judy Sadoff did not know one another well.
The pandemic — and Deggeller's delivery of nightly meals to Sadoff — changed all that.
The new friendship further led Deggeller to compile her recipes into a self-published cookbook, "Food That Brought Us Together," which so far has raised more than $10,000 for the Ecumenical Hunger Program in East Palo Alto.
The demand for food at the safety-net agency has at least doubled since the start of the pandemic, according to its executive director, Lesia Preston.
Deggeller's neighborly food sharing began with the shutdown order.
"Judy just came across the street one day and said she'd like to give me some dinner. Would 5:30 be OK," recalled Sadoff, 92.
"I don't turn down someone else's cooking so I said, 'Oh, OK.' And the next night it was there, and the next night and the next night. It went on for quite a while. She knew I wasn't quite up to cooking and that's why I think she chose me for such a long time."
Deggeller, retired from a career in industrial engineering, said she does "not necessarily" love to cook. She and her husband, Marty, had grown accustomed to eating out frequently, or eating "very simply" at home.
But the pandemic sent her back to the kitchen.
"As long as I was cooking, I decided to make extra for people I was concerned were confined to their homes or maybe weren't familiar with having groceries delivered," Deggeller said. "I just started taking (Sadoff) dinner, and she appreciated it so much."
Deggeller also made nightly meals for another friend, and both recipients urged her to collect the recipes into a cookbook. She ignored the suggestions until she heard the hunger-relief program was contending with a crush of new clients and realized a cookbook could help raise funds.
She gathered 37 of the recipes she'd made for Sadoff — everything from "Best Chicken Soup You'll Ever Eat" to "Yam and Plantain Curry with Crispy Shallots" — and built her book through CreateMyCookbook.com.
Recipes — all credited — came from family friends and various online and newspaper sources. They include her mother's split pea soup and her husband's preparation for fresh-caught salmon. To capture and upload iPhone photos for the book, Deggeller had to go back and make many of the dishes again.
In emails to family and friends, she offered a copy of her cookbook to anyone making a $20 donation to the nonprofit organization.
"One woman gave me $1,000 and only took one cookbook," Deggeller said. "Someone else gave $60 and took three. My daughter-in-law put it on Facebook and sold 42 in the first 10 minutes to her younger friends in Sunnyvale."
Word also went out through networks in Deggeller's Palo Alto University Rotary Club and her husband's Palo Alto Kiwanis Club. The first 100 books were gone in three days, raising $5,000. The second printing also sold out, for an additional $5,000. Deggeller has ordered more copies.
Delivering the first $5,000 check to Ecumenical Hunger Program's associate director, LaKesha Roberts-Evans, Deggeller asked what it would be used for.
"When she said 'fresh vegetables,' tears came to my eyes," Deggeller said. "To think of people not knowing where their next meal is coming from and eating out of cans — it made me so happy we were doing this."
While Deggeller no longer delivers meals to Sadoff every night, the relationship has blossomed.
"I still take her things now and then," Deggeller said. "I didn't know her well before COVID but, when this is all over, we'll have her over a lot."
Sadoff added: "I was very grateful to Judy and her husband, Marty, for feeding me such nutritious food, and now I have more friends."
People wanting to make a donation to Ecumenical Hunger Program and receive a cookbook can email Deggeller at [email protected]
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.