August 13, 2020
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Deep River Housing Authority Chair Lisa Johnson takes her commitment to area seniors a step further by preparing her famous Monday night meals for seniors at Kirtland Commons. Photo courtesy of Lisa Johnson

Deep River Housing Authority Chair Lisa Johnson takes her commitment to area seniors a step further by preparing her famous Monday night meals for seniors at Kirtland Commons. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Johnson )

Lisa Johnson: Food as a Way to Happiness

Published July 10, 2019

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Using food as her genre of giving and to make others happy, Lisa Johnson seasons her phenomenal cooking with love.

It began as a kind gesture from a daughter to a hard-working mother and grew into a way of giving back on a much grander scale.

“I love pleasing people with food,” says Lisa, who first started cooking when she was just a teenager. “My mom was a single mom who worked two jobs. I would make dinner, so when she came home from her full-time job, she had a hot meal waiting for her, before she went to her second job as a waitress.”

Lisa has carried on that tradition of using food as her highway to other people’s happiness and for the past eight plus years she has been cooking Monday night meals for approximately 30 local seniors who depend on her for a great-tasting, nutritional meal—one that always includes a delectable dessert.

“That seems to be the most important part to most of them,” Lisa says with a smile. “They love their desserts, so I try to change it up and come up with new ideas, however, most of the regulars like whatever I make, as long as it is good and sugary.”

Lisa prepares her meals at home in her own kitchen and brings them to Kirtland Commons, an affordable housing complex overseen by the Deep River Housing Authority, for all to enjoy. There is a suggested donation of $3 to $5, but she said they never turn anyone away if they can’t pay. She has three very loyal volunteers that help her with this labor of love: Ruthie Machold, who does the dishes, and Shirley Lane and Lin Meyer, who set the tables and serve the food.

Lisa says that she is just a good cook who likes to make people happy. She is also the chairman of the Deep River Housing Authority and cares deeply about the people for whom she cooks weekly.

“For many of the seniors, this meal is the only home-cooked meal they eat all week, so it makes me happy to be able to do that for them,” Lisa says. “After a while they become like family and we all look forward to Monday nights, not just for the food, but for the company, the sense of community, and the togetherness. We tell stories and jokes—it’s just a good time.”

She adds, “Some of these people have no one else. One older woman was very upset because she didn’t know what was going to happen to her cat when she passed away, so my daughter [who used to volunteer with her] took the cat. These people have just become a part of our lives and I really feel like I get so much more than I give. They are amazing people and they are so appreciative and loving.”

Lisa, who feels fortunate to have been able to care for her own mother in her later years of life, credits her with the family’s cooking know-how.

“I use of lot of my mother’s recipes. She was a great cook and I learned a lot from her,” Lisa says.

Some of her specialties revered by her Monday night dinner guests include tiramisu, pork cutlets with dill sauce, and, every now and then, a stir fry.

“I really love to cook Mexican cuisine, but the seniors don’t like that much. They are more of a meat and potato bunch, but I try to stretch their limits,” Lisa explains.

She also prides herself on being a frugal shopper who buys her ingredients on sale and in bulk—because of her penny pinching, her group has been able to enjoy filet mignon on more than one occasion.

“They really love that and I love to see them happy,” Lisa says.

She plans her Monday menus a month in advance. The menu is posted on the Deep River Housing Authority Facebook page and also sent out via email. Reservations for dinner close 48 hours ahead of time, so Lisa knows how many to cook for, but she always makes extra, just in case, and if she is going on vacation, she makes sure she has someone who will cook for her.

Going above and beyond is how Lisa does it, and she is proud and grateful to have the opportunity, the time, the passion and the know how to keep doing it.

“As long as there are hungry people who want to eat my Monday night meals, I will keep on cooking and making them happy,” she said.

For reservations for the Kirtland Commons Monday evening meals, call 860-510-1254 at least 48 hours in advance. Dinner is served at 5:30 p.m.

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