Despite the Pandemic: Cascade Third Grader Stays Family & School Focused

Cascade Elementary School third grader Makayla Matthews, pink shirt, is pictured with her family and Chef Sabrina Renée, who donated a holiday meal to the Matthews family.

Despite the pandemic that has shut school doors since March 2020, Cascade Elementary School third grader Makayla Mathews continues to make positive contributions at home and in school.

“The best thing about going to school during a pandemic is that I get to stay at home with my family and parents,” said Makayla. “The worst thing about going to school during a pandemic is that I don’t get to see my friends as often as I used to, and I don’t get to see my favorite teachers.”

On Nov. 30, while at home with her family, Makayla’s selfless and routine act of kindness caught the attention of one of her favorite teachers.

“One of my students asked if she could go fix food for her grandma,” wrote Makayla’s teacher Avery Harden in a Tweet. “She was the only student to finish her writing. I watched this baby feed her grandma with one hand and write with the other. I have chills thinking about it. This proves kids in tough circumstances just make it work.”

That Tweet soon caught the attention of Chef Sabrina Renée.

“I wanted to support the Matthews family, because I’m in complete awe at how parents make do in general, but especially right now during the pandemic,” said the chef and owner of Appetize Atlanta Food + Fare. “It hasn’t been easy, but families like the Matthews are putting in the work every day to thrive, and I jumped at the chance to bring joy and nourishment into their space.”

In December, Chef Renée provided the Matthews family a holiday meal that included a seafood boil with crab legs and shrimp, chicken alfredo, broiled garlic herb broccoli, and garlic bread with spices from her brand Appetize Atlanta.

“When the chef delivered the food, I was happy, and I felt good to know that little things I do can make a big difference for my family,” said Makayla.

Harden says this act of kindness is an example of the many ways her students have taught her the true meaning of empathy.

“When I accepted the responsibility of teaching children, I accepted the challenge of propelling students towards success,” Harden said. “I made the choice to know and truly understand each individual student I encounter. What I didn’t know is how heartbroken I would be after knowing and understanding the hardships my students encounter on a daily basis. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching Makayla for two years, and she has the biggest heart I have ever seen. I’m thankful that even through a Tweet, people were able to feel her light.”

The children of the Matthews family will soon participate in free virtual kids cooking classes, via Chef Renée’s non-profit program, Kids Meals ATL

“It was important for me to reach out after seeing it mentioned that their daughter was pulling double duty during virtual learning: completing an assignment, while simultaneously feeding an older relative,” said Chef Renée. “My thought was that if she could have food readily prepared, she could spend less time splitting her focus, and I would ensure that the meals were conscious, to really utilize the vitamins, minerals and natural fueling, healing, and restorative nature of real food. Our bodies crave these natural elements, especially as children, and healthy relationships with food start during youth.”

A stage four uterine cancer survivor, Chef Renée says her passion for health and spreading knowledge to the community is at an all-time high.

“I was diagnosed with stage four uterine cancer in July 2019, which pretty much halted all my plans, including in-person cooking classes with Kids Meals,” she said. “Upon completing nine rounds of chemo and healing from tumor removal surgery, I began providing virtual cooking classes for a local non-profit STEAM program for young girls. My passion for health and spreading that knowledge to my community ran deep, but never as fervently as now, after cancer, chemo, and COVID.”

“Now, more than ever, I want my community to thrive, and I hope by supporting the Matthews and hopefully other families in the near future, we can begin to see change in the way we use food to fuel our lives, better our communities, and positively impact our future,” Chef Renée added.

In the meantime, Makayla continues to excel in school and offers this advice to students who may be struggling with virtual learning: “My advice to any student who is having a hard time in virtual school is to keep trying, keep practicing, and then you will get it.”

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