Now That's a Real Meal Deal!
Cheryl Peachey Stoner
Hesston KS USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 42 No. 4, October-November-December 2006, p. 87
For more than two years, La Leche League of Newton, Kansas, USA has offered an extra "perk" to its new and renewing members. If a mother gives birth to a baby during the year that her membership is active, we arrange for her to receive meals, delivered to her door or brought to her at Series Meetings.
Our Group has a loyal Group of core members who know each other well and have become good friends over the years. Often, it feels as though they lead the meetings for us! They are good proponents of La Leche League philosophy, and have become each other's support system. One of the ways this manifested itself is that Leaders and members would bring meals to each other when someone had a new baby. This evolved and didn't feel like too much extra work for the Leaders.
In January of 2004, we decided to make it official and published in our Group newsletter that one of the benefits of membership in La Leche League of Newton was getting "at least six new mother meals" from the Group. We also included, "Meals when your baby is born!" on our poster that lists the benefits of membership. (Leader Alyce Bartel made this poster for us; it helps to have a "visual" to show what is included in membership.)
At first, the memberships and the births of babies came at intervals that made this arrangement seem reasonable. Lately, though, we have had to come together as Leaders to discuss again why it is that we are doing this, and if and how we can continue. We have agreed not to mention a specific number of meals; six will still be our goal, but we won't put that in print anymore. Honestly, mothers are usually thrilled with even one meal, prepared and delivered "LLL-style."
The problem with this strategy is that it has worked too well! Several mothers have told us that they would have bought a membership for the meals alone. I think they really appreciate something extra that goes beyond the other benefits. Our total number of memberships sold in 2003 was eight; in 2004, 10; and 14 in 2005! (As of this printing, we have 19 active members and Leaders, and that's after sending four others off to McPherson, Kansas to start a new Group!)
On several occasions we have had two new babies in one month, and one month there were four! This has caused some challenges with records: keeping straight who has taken meals to whom, and who has already been asked. This would be a great job for a Group member (if only we could find one willing to commit to it!). We don't want to overburden anyone. So far our six Leaders and Leader Applicants have shared the job of arranging meals, so no one person has to do it all. There are also times when months go by with no need to arrange meals at all.
Another challenge is communicating clearly about what defines a "meal." We have tried to keep the definition broad—sometimes someone brings a big pot of soup, other times a simple, nutritious four-course meal such as casserole, salad, bread, and carrot cake. We stress that as long as the new mother doesn't have to cook, it counts!
There is some concern that providing meals may be a financial burden for some members. We stress that it's okay to say no, and that there will always be another opportunity. Even so, we rarely get "no" for an answer. We haven't heard any complaints from members, and often, even non-members will take a meal to a mother when asked. It has really brought the Group together. They like to support and help one another -- it is mother-to-mother support in action!
Another benefit of this program is that it increases our number of Leader contacts. Each time I deliver a meal to a mother, we of course end up discussing the baby and how breastfeeding is going. I often leave feeling as though a hurdle has been overcome or avoided because of my visit. That counts as a home visit! And, arranging all of the meals often turns out the same way; if we discuss meeting times or breastfeeding when I call a mother to ask if she can take someone a meal, I count that as a phone contact. Our contacts have increased along with our memberships.
It definitely takes time and effort, but if your goal is a Group that is a supportive community, then you might consider including "new mother meals" (or a fruit basket or muffins) as a benefit of membership in your Group. Providing this benefit has involved some "growing pains" for our Group, but I believe we are up to the challenge!