A ‘cash cow’ or an opportunity to share with others?

Authors of Mennonite Girls Can Cook share personal stories

October 10, 2012 | Artbeat
By Melodie Davis | MennoMedia

One businessman had a hard time getting his head around the idea of the Mennonite Girls Can Cook authors giving all their royalties to charity. Charlotte Penner and her husband, Tony, live in Winnipeg, Man., and she loves to cook. So Charlotte agreed to cook a meal from the popular cookbook she helped to write, Mennonite Girls Can Cook (Herald Press, 2011), at the home of a friend for a group of businessmen.

“The men were very pleased with the meal,” Charlotte recalls, “but one of the men commented to me that we were sitting on a ‘cash cow’ and someday I would be very rich.” The cookbook is a bestseller in Canada and altogether has sold over 30,000 copies in a year and a half.

Charlotte responded, “I hope so, but I won’t be the one who becomes rich. All the royalties are going to our charity.” She explained to him how the group of 10 women who author the Mennonite Girls Can Cook blog and book of the same name all decided that the royalties would go to the Good Shepherd Shelter in Ukraine.

The man said, “I can understand you giving a portion of it to charity, but all of it?”

Charlotte told him about the Mennonite heritage and how of all the cookbook authors, either their parents or grandparents were born in Russia. Moreover, many of them had escaped under what they felt were miraculous conditions. “I was able to share our story, our Christian faith and how that related to our cookbook. I also said that those of us in North America who own one house and one car make us among 8 percent of the richest people in the world. How could I possibly want more, when 92 percent of the world needs more?”

Working through Mennonite Central Committee, the Mennonite Girls Can Cook authors decided a worthy project was to build a greenhouse on the property of the Good Shepherd Shelter in Makeevka, Ukraine. “The goal is to raise $67,000 to build and give support to the greenhouse,” says the Mennonite Girls Can Cook blog, to “provide a sustainable source of healthy food for the children in the shelter and for the children at risk in the local community.”

Charlotte explained that most of the authors’ ancestors came from Ukraine. “My parents and grandparents are from Ukraine,” explained Charlotte. They had to flee in 1943. Charlotte’s mother lived in a Paraguayan colony of Mennonites for nine years while she waited to immigrate to Canada.

“With all the loss and the tragedy that they experienced during those years, we were a very, very, close-knit family. My husband is from Paraguay and his whole family wasn’t around in the beginning of our marriage. Raising our kids has been with an appreciation of having family and church around to call on when needed.” The Penners have three children and are members of Douglas Mennonite Church.

“Having visited Ukraine myself, I realize how very blessed I am to be living in Canada,” she said. The orphanage provides shelter and basic life needs for neglected and abandoned children including, food, clothing, education, health care, and spiritual and emotional support.

Most readers are happy to have part of their purchase go to charity. Doris wrote on the blog, “I … appreciate that the royalties are helping children. How very ‘Mennonite!’” She went on, “As I flipped through the pages, I began to cry; oh the memories that came flooding back! I have some recipes that I got from my Mom, but the monster that is called Alzheimer’s took my mother’s memory from her far too soon, so many of the recipes were lost. As I turned each page, a little gasp and a smile: I remember eating that!”

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