Mac & Cheese Ministry: How Greensboro’s Mac God Feeds the Triad’s Needy
By Mia Osborn
Rashelle Brooks goes by several noodly names. To those who buy up her signature dish at markets around the Triad, she’s known as the Mac God. The local homeless community calls her the Mac and Cheese Lady. Others know her only through her business, the Mac & Cheese Ministry. On Dec. 3, Brooks added another title: First Place Winner of Charlotte’s CLT’s Macdown macaroni and cheese competition.
It’s an odd list of monikers for someone who hated macaroni and cheese as a child.
“I never liked mac and cheese growing up, so I started playing around with some recipes,” said Brooks.
Brooks took to the kitchen in 2013 as a way to recover from a series of personal struggles.
“My divorce, my health issues; all of these things were going wrong at one time,” said Brooks. “I wanted to do something outside of myself. And cooking has always been therapeutic for me.”
Brooks made it her mission to tweak the classic side dish into something she loved. Her friends and family loved it, too. Their feedback inspired Brooks to share her creation with those who needed it most.
“I started going down to Moore Square in Raleigh, bringing pans and sitting outside and talking to people, making friends. Some of them still reach out to me now,” she said.
News of the Mac and Cheese Lady spread through word of mouth. Strangers began contacting Brooks, asking her to visit local families who didn’t have enough to eat.
“I was working full time, getting my paycheck, making food, and going right downtown,” said Brooks of those early days. “It became something I really loved.”
Brooks found the work so fulfilling that it took up more and more of her time. In 2014, she left her job in corporate communications and moved her family to Greensboro. She saw an opportunity there to turn her passion project into a business, which came to be known as the Mac & Cheese Ministry.
Lovers of Brooks’ gooey creation can now order pans of it through her website and have them delivered to their doors each weekend. She still gets plenty of requests about families in need of a free meal. One day a week is devoted to combing through emails and figuring out how to feed the most people for free, while also keeping paying customers happy.
“Around the first and fifteenth of the month is when folks get paid and get their benefits. In between and toward the end of the month, that’s when I get 15 or so requests at once. I’m not always able to serve everyone, but I serve everyone I can.”
Brooks is now working to secure investors and commercial kitchen space so the Mac & Cheese Ministry can grow. Whether she’s ready or not, her first place win in the CLT’s ‘Macdown’ is sure to add more orders to her plate. The competition, held at Sugar Creek Brewery, pitted local macaroni and cheese vendors against each other to benefit Project Halo, Charlotte’s no-kill animal sanctuary. Winners were decided by ballot, with the Mac & Cheese Ministry coming out ahead by roughly 30 votes.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Brooks. “I met a lot of awesome people from the Charlotte community. It’s great to venture outside of Greensboro and see what people think of the product.”
Brooks’ favorite type of macaroni and cheese – spinach and artichoke – took home the prize, but she also has a growing stockpile of other recipes, including lobster and bacon cheddar. All are in high demand on the delivery circuit, so Brooks has plenty to keep her busy.
At least she has junior assistants. Her 12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son have worked with her since the project began.
“My daughter helps me with keeping organized and on time, and my son actually loves to cook, so he’s in the kitchen with me,” she said. “I think it’s good for them. They start to understand we’re all not that far from these situations, so help other people while you can.”
Once the Mac & Cheese Ministry gains a permanent location, Brooks plans to continue helping others by using her kitchen to create jobs.
“In the Mac & Cheese Ministry, I come across so many people who are skilled in culinary arts, but they have backgrounds that don’t permit them to get good jobs, or they’re in a position where no one will give them a chance,” Brooks said.
Another reason for hiring help is to give Brooks more time to engage with the people for whom she started her ministry.
“I love my mac and cheese, but I didn’t start this to be in the kitchen all the time. I started it to be out and about, sharing my story, encouraging people and loving on people,” she said.
Brooks has her eye on several abandoned properties near the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she feels her mission and her macaroni will be popular with students. Until the next phase of her business plan unfolds, Brooks says she will keep doing what she can to feed the community. She encourages others to join her by reaching out to those around them.
“There can never be too many people helping the poor,” she said. “There can never be too many people feeding the hungry. There will always be people with us that need help.”
To learn more about the Mac & Cheese Ministry, visit www.mkt.com/macncheeseministry.
Mia Osborn is a Greensboro-based freelance writer who hails from Birmingham, Alabama.