For Transplant House families, dinner just got a whole lot better

For the past four years, Julia Lavenberg has gone to the Clyde Barker Penn Transplant House at 40th and Walnut almost every Thursday evening to provide a little “taste” of home with her homemade baked goods for the pre- and post-transplant patients and their families who stay there. The guests love the smells emanating from the Transplant House kitchen, which is no surprise. Research shows that the part of the brain that controls emotions is connected directly to a person’s olfactory gland; smells can definitely affect mood or bring up certain memories. One guest told her that after spending the entire day at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), with so many tests and doctors, coming back to the house with smells of cookies “felt so warm.” Another said the aroma “makes me feel someone cares.”

Five people seated at a table smiling, a tray of cookies in front of person wearing chef clothing.

But these good aromas do more than make us feel good. “Smell also affects the part of the brain that deals with stress,” says Lavenberg, who is a research analyst at Penn’s Center for Evidence Based Practice. “So it reduces stress as well, for the person doing the baking and for the recipient.”

Now, thanks to the partnership with Walnut Hill College and a Penn Medicine CAREs grant, Lavenberg has kicked those efforts into high gear. Each month since December, students—all part of the college’s Student Leadership Development Institute—have volunteered their time and expertise to create soup, bread, and dessert, all (of course) from scratch, for guests at the Transplant House. Lavenberg says the students cook at the House but must first create a menu that feeds 30 (enough for plenty of leftovers) and stays within an allotted monthly budget. Although the students choose what they’ll prepare, the emphasis is on comfort foods. “It’s what the guests want.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News.