Area culinary students are lending their cooking expertise to prepare the signature entree for the annual Think Pink luncheon, a popular Wheeling event designed to raise funds for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
The Think Pink luncheon - the brainchild of the late Jane Altmeyer, who battled breast cancer for over a decade - continues to be organized by her many friends, with an increasing number of community volunteers and area students joining the cause this year. The luncheon and a silent auction will be held at Altmeyer's home parish, St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, 1410 Chapline St., Wheeling, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14.
The traditional luncheon menu, developed by Altmeyer, features her own complicated recipe for roasted vegetable lasagna. In the initial years of the event, Altmeyer prepared all of the food by herself. As the luncheon continued to grow, several of her friends, dubbed Janie's Crew, assisted with the meal preparation and, eventually, took over the planning, cooking and serving as Altmeyer's illness progressed and ultimately claimed her life.
Andreini, left, and Linda Bordas hold the Janie’s Walk banner while veiwing an array of items donated for the Think Pink silent auction in Wheeling.
A Think Pink committee and the all-volunteer Janie's Crew organize the Think Pink luncheon and auction. Adrienne Klouse, committee member and ticket chairman, said the event continues to evolve.
"We are seeing more and more community involvement in our Think Pink project," Klouse said, "and we are delighted to welcome aboard new volunteers."
One of the most exciting developments this year is the support of Mary Beth Ray's culinary arts class at Bishop Donahue High School in McMechen. About 15 students in the culinary arts class are assisting with the project, Ray said.
The Bishop Donahue students are helping with preparation of the roasted vegetable lasagna. Klouse describes the dish as "a real challenge to prepare." It generally involves a two-day process with many precise steps and is assembled in identical trays of 24 servings. Because of the complexity of the recipe, she explained, Altmeyer's friend, Gigi Mercer, and Ray are overseeing the preparation of the students' share of the luncheon's main course.
"It's a wonderful experience," Ray said. "They (the students) are very excited about making the lasagna and serving it."
One of the culinary students, senior Taylor Sinclair, remarked, "It was really fun to make." He explained that the students are making and freezing the lasagna ahead of time.
Reviewing the difficult recipe for the tasty vegetable lasagna, Sinclair said, "I think it is a really good one." Making the complex dish "will help me later in learning to cook. It's a little fancier, too," he added.
Ray quipped that her students "can't wait to eat" their finished entree.
"We were nervous but excited to meet the very detailed specifications of this recipe," Ray said, "and we were told our trial run was perfect." In addition to preparing about a third of the lasagna servings, Ray's uniformed seniors will help the other volunteers during the luncheon hours.
Preparing meals for large groups is nothing new for the Donahue culinary arts students who cook and serve meals to their fellow students and faculty members every school day. Ray explained, "They learn the recipes. They make the hot lunch (at Bishop Donahue) every day."
Mercer said the culinary arts students' assistance with the Think Pink luncheon this year is "a godsend. It's a great help."
Last year, 14 trays of vegetable lasagna were prepared for the luncheon, Mercer said. The organizers plan to have 16 or 17 trays made this year, with the Bishop Donahue students preparing six of the trays. "The rest are made by different people on the committee. It's usually the same ladies every year," Mercer said, adding, "What we don't serve, we sell it. People buy it."
Up to 350 sit-down meals are planned for the day. With the students' help, Mercer and Ray agreed, "It's a win-win situation for everybody."
The class is credited with a community service project and Janie's Crew gets much needed dining room help. Additional youth involvement in Think Pink is coming from Wheeling Central Catholic High School's Key Club which has volunteered to help in the cleanup,
Luncheon tickets may be purchased by calling Klouse 304-242-3954, or any Think Pink volunteer. Tickets won't be available at the door, Klouse said. Takeout luncheons will be available and encouraged by calling ahead at 304-215-0295.
Change also is planned for the silent auction held in connection with the luncheon, said Charl Kappel, auction chairman. Because of increased requests over the years, she said, "We have decided to open up the auction to include non-pink items." Past auction participants suggested including blue and/or neutral-colored items "to encourage shopping for sons, grandsons and others," Kappel said, "so we've tried to accommodate those requests.
"Make no mistake, it's still a Think Pink auction, but we have included a broader range of colors and items this year," the chairman said. Also popular with bidders are donated service products, such as athletic club memberships and spa, health and beauty appointments, according to Kappel.
One of the showpiece items up for sale will be a hand-painted violin titled "Love Beyond Measure," created by Wheeling artist Laura Andreini and dedicated to Altmeyer's memory. Andreini incorporated symbols exemplifying "limitless love" using multimedia materials, including watercolor on rice paper.
Andreini explained that flowers painted on the violin's base "represent Janie's life on earth, seeds planted that brought joy to others and beautified the planet." Blue skies above the field of flowers represent heaven, the artist said.
The violin is adorned with pearl "wings" that, Andreini said, "symbolize Janie's angel wings taking flight from the earthbound pearls, which represent her journey through life."
Another donation up for bid in the silent auction is the third hand-made quilt designed by Linda Berry of Wheeling. "Her past creations have been beautiful and I have no doubt this year's will be equally stunning," Kappel remarked.
Because seating is limited to the diners, shoppers are welcome without a lunch ticket and encouraged to visit Janie's Cookie Corner during auction hours. The community involvement extends to the Cookie Corner as members of the Junior League of Wheeling are supplying treats for the baked goods sale.
Kappel commented, "We thank the entire Wheeling community for being so supportive of this wonderful event. It's so gratifying for Janie's friends to see her wish of helping women in need continue to flourish."
The Ohio Valley's observance of October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month kicks off this week with a new emphasis on community involvement and other changes to old traditions.
The statewide awareness campaign begins with the hanging of a symbolic pink Breast Cancer Awareness wreath at the City-County Building, 1500 Chapline St., Wheeling, at 10 a.m. Monday, Oct. 4. Activities get in full swing with Janie's Walk for Women, named in Altmeyer's honor, at the Heritage Trail by the Howard Long Wellness Center in Wheeling at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct.10.
All money raised at Janie's Walk and the Think Pink luncheon and silent auction benefit the West Virginia Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program. Sandy Duvall, regional cancer information specialist for the Mountain State program, explained the agency's goal is to fund tests for underinsured West Virginia women in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Both fundraisers, she emphasized, are largely inspired by Altmeyer, a Wheeling resident who lost her courageous battle against breast cancer in 2008. "Janie was an inspiration to all of us during her illness and we're pleased to continue these events in her honor," she added.
A new walk feature this year is the opportunity for women to participate in a bone density scan for the detection of osteoporosis. John Walters, coordinator of Regional 1 of the Northern West Virginia Rural Health Education Center, and medical students from West Virginia University will be conducting the free tests at the Wellness Center. A printout of the results will be available, Duvall said.
Registration for the walk begins at 12:30 p.m. at the Wellness Center, followed by a donation balloon sendoff sponsored by the Ohio County Medical Alliance. Duvall said Janie's Walk visors will be available, as well as numerous informational displays, refreshments and door prizes. Medical oncologist Dr. Thomas Przybysz will be the guest speaker.