MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It started out as one family’s way of showing gratitude to their step mother’s caregivers. After returning from a trip to Zimbabwe in the fall of 2012, Janis Houston was diagnosed with African sleeping sickness.

The disease is transmitted from a parasite found in the Tsetse fly. According to the World Health Organization, about 10,000 new cases are reported each year, but many more are left undiagnosed. However, in the U.S., less than 10 cases are diagnosed a year.

Houston has since recovered, but it was a long battle. Both her legs were amputated in the fight, along with her hands. Her family owns a food service business here in the Twin Cities, including Forepaugh’s Restaurant in St. Paul. After her husband and his children spent most of the holiday in the ICU at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, it’s only fitting her “thank you,” along with the family’s, came in the form of food.

“The idea is driven by giving back, as so many gave to us, when we were in the hospital,” said Houston’s stepson, Trent Taher, who oversees health and nutrition for Taher Incorporated.

Three years later, the family’s appreciation has turned into them giving out Thanksgiving meal kits to thousands in the Twin Cities metro.

What do the kits include?

“Wild rice stuffing, turkey, green bean casserole, homemade cranberry relish, mashed potatoes, gravy and pumpkin pie,” said Mark Augustine, operations manager of Taher Incorporated.

On a typical day, Augustine oversees the preparations of about 5,000 to 8,000 meals.

“This week is extremely busy, we’re preparing an extra 3,000 meals,” Augustine said.

These turkey dinners for four aren’t just going to area hospitals, but are being cooked to feed families across the metro.

“It’s a real personal fulfillment for me,” said Sandy Schoenthler, a regional manager with Taher Incorporated.

This year, she’ll bring Thanksgiving to 12 different families. Some will go to families at her church, while other kits to a local charity she supports.

Schoenthler was moved to tears when describing one doorstep delivery from last year.

“The mom was in a wheelchair and the kids started jumping up and down because they were going to eat real food and not cereal,” Schoenthler said.

The Taher family expects 3,300 meals will be passed out. The deliveries start Wednesday and won’t stop until all the food is gone.

Ali Lucia

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