Ruthie McDonough had no food background when she volunteered at Rosie’s Place 13 years ago. For the last seven years, the Allston native has served as the dining room manager, overseeing the revamp of food quality standards at the longtime women’s sanctuary. Following USDA nutrition guidelines, McDonough redid the menu to offer healthier options, including one serving of fruit per meal, two servings of vegetables, more fiber, and lower sodium and fat. “It was definitely a learning curve, changing the menu. Ruthie tried to make a beet salad and the women were running away from it,” says Sue Marsh, executive director of Rosie’s Place. “I think they really had to retrain their palates because they were used to salty food and sugary food.”
Last year, McDonough and her rotating staff of about 1,500 volunteers, many of whom also have no food experience, served more than 78,000 meals, an increase of about 5,000 over 2011. “I would challenge any other program in the city to match the way Ruthie’s created a menu that not only keeps the women full, but feeds them well,” Marsh says. McDonough told us about her food mission and the challenges and rewards it has brought.