At least three times a week, Louise and David Sample prepare three-course meals in their Logan home — and then give them away.
Chef Louise, 63, is perhaps best known for chicken gravy that’s so good people are content to sop it up with bread and call it a meal. Sous chef David, 68, drives to Lancaster for fresh produce, keeps the kitchen clean, and stretches his 6-foot-4 frame to get the pots that are stored out of 5-foot-3 Louise’s reach.
Louise seasons the short ribs, turkey, and other meats the night before she cooks them. Vegetables matter, too: She once spent an entire Saturday cooking collard greens. Each “regular” (which is how the couple refers to the recipients of their meals) gets a fresh salad — even if that means David needs to shop for spring mix multiple times a week. And daughter Sha’Laina often bakes the cakes — usually pound, German chocolate, or coconut — that are sliced for dessert.
Together the couple prep, cook, clean, package, and deliver filled-to-the-rim containers to their octogenarian neighbor, who lives alone. And to an older gentleman with cancer. And to a recent widow struggling with a grandchild’s health problems. And to an elderly woman whose daughter works long hours.
Anyone else hungry? Let Louise and David make them a platter.
“They’re always making food for people, making sure everybody is taken care of, always giving,” said Sha’Laina, 35. “It’s just something they do.”
The Samples, who are retired, say it’s no big deal spending hundreds of dollars and unknown hours each month in service to others. You treat others as you want to be treated, whether you’re dealing with strangers, neighbors, family, friends — or the sweetheart you married decades ago, the way Louise and David did in 1979.
Said David, “You sow the seeds. You reap what you sow.”
On Valentine’s Day, the Samples will celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary, and this year it’s especially significant.
Louise was diagnosed with nonalcoholic liver disease in November 2018, and there were moments when those around her worried she wouldn’t make it. This time last year, she was very sick.
She needed weekly treatments to drain excess fluid from her body. She developed blood clots in both legs. The many medications she needed made her feel hazy.
But right up until she received her liver and kidney transplant last August at Albert Einstein Medical Center, she made platters for the regulars. And for every employee — from maintenance workers to ministers — at New Covenant Church of Philadelphia. And for Einstein’s radiology staff.
“I was cooking the night before my transplant. David took me to the seventh floor of Einstein” — to her patient room — “then took the food to them,” she said. “I never worried about not making it, because I never knew how sick I was.”
The Samples met a half century ago, when Louise’s family owned and operated a sandwich shop at North Sixth and Cumberland Streets near where David grew up. He was 17 when he spied her working the cash register.
“When I saw her, I knew one day she would be my wife,” he said. “I’d order two sandwiches, fries, and a shake to try to impress her that I had money. I’d give her my money and touch her hands and she wanted no part of it.”
“I remember him trying to hold my hand,” Louise laughed. “He’d act like a big shot with his friends.”
Their courtship was cut short by the Vietnam War. David joined the Navy in 1971 and was sent overseas. Louise left to study at North Carolina’s Bennett College.
But when the couple reconnected years later, the spark was still there. They married Feb. 14, 1979, and settled in the Logan home where they raised their two children. Louise spent 25 years working for the School District of Philadelphia. David’s primary job was in construction.
“Now we’re retired,” Louise said.
David interjected, “Except for the food."
Yes, Louise agreed, “Except for the food.”
Even during her post-transplant hospital stay, Louise found a way to nurture others, said Sha’Laina: She’d separate the untouched food from her meal tray, and give it to David to take home.
“We’d make platters for the regulars, so she didn’t have to waste it,” Sha’Laina said.
Two months after surgery, Louise was back in the kitchen, making meals. David thinks it sped her recovery.
“When someone goes through something traumatic, resuming any part of your life where you know what you’re doing puts you in a place where you’re in control,” he said. “Cooking is her passion. Just doing it gave her a portion of her life back.”
Indeed, Louise is feeling so healthy, post-transplant, that the couple will be able to resume their annual anniversary trip to Williamsburg, Va., a journey Louise was too ill to attempt last year.
“It’s a miracle,” said Louise.
The Samples had always been generous on the block, sending platters to neighbors after every Sunday dinner or holiday celebration. But about three years ago they asked longtime friend Evella Biggs, 85, if she would benefit from more regular meals. Then they asked her for the names of others who could use a bit of kindness.
“It’s beyond me how they can do it, but I don’t question,” said Biggs, a widow with no children. “I just appreciate them for being so concerned about the rest of us.”
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The Samples, who’ve known Biggs for 40 years, recall her own days of generosity.
“I remember when my kids were babies, her coming over,” Louise said of Biggs. “She’d always prepare bags for them for the holidays, Easter baskets and Christmas baskets.”
Now, it’s Biggs’ turn to be the recipient of neighborly goodness.
As David said, you reap what you sow.