Debby Auble cooks

Debby Auble starts her Thanksgiving preparations as seen through her kitchen window Monday in Champaign.

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CHAMPAIGN — When real-estate agent Debby Auble began cooking meals in March for elderly people with various dietary restrictions, she thought she may be doing it for a few weeks.

Eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s still at it.

“I usually cook on Tuesday nights for however long it takes and then deliver on Wednesday morning,” Auble said.

She then repeats the process on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.

“I’m chronically tired,” Auble said.

But it wasn’t a tough choice to help.

Someone she didn’t want to name reached out to her about cooking for some food-insecure senior citizens, and she said, “Of course.”

“I’m known for my cooking and also for cooking mass amounts of food from scratch for clients and parties and things like that,” she said. “I cook 14 meals a week for 21 elderly people that are food insecure, which is a lot.”

The residents range in age from 82 to 97, and have various restrictions, from gluten and lactose intolerance to low-fat or low-sodium diets.

She uses containers with different colors to keep track of who can eat what.

“Sometimes it feels like algebra,” Auble said.

She makes them lunch and dinner, with enough for leftovers, and tries not to repeat meals too often. Except tacos.

“There’s always a taco night,” she said, though even for that, she uses different meats each week.

Auble has made roast pork, pasta, kale salad, chocolate applesauce cake, cherry cobbler, roasted squash, a pizza kit (with gluten-free or regular dough), a minestrone soup kit, Cuban sandwiches and tacos.

She delivers the meals in a cooler, following strict safety precautions.

“I use a curtain rod to lift the lid onto the coolers,” she said. “I wear gloves and use disinfectant wipes.”

Auble is financing the project on her own.

“We’ve had some people be generous, but it’s really expensive,” she said, especially since she goes for higher-quality ingredients. “I don’t want to feed them crap.”

She’s received some donations, including squash that were used for the minestrone soup and 40 pounds of tomatoes that were used for marinara.

“I put it in freezers,” she said. “If I had a big freezer, it would help a lot.”

As challenging as it can be, Auble has her system down and said adding help would probably be more trouble than it’s worth, though she is getting some help for this week’s Thanksgiving dinners.

Auble sounded less concerned about her challenges than with those of whom she’s helping.

“It’s very rewarding to be able to give back in such an important way,” she said. “I believe you have to give back, and part of what makes you a part of the community is giving back instead of just sucking out.”

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