BBQ chicken dinner leads to years of service for this Primavera volunteer

Sheryl Boris understands the power of a meal made with love.

She grew up in what she called a “relatively stable,” family where her parents owned a delicatessen. For most of her upbringing, she was shielded from issues like food insecurity and poverty.

“I spent my time in my parents’ delicatessen,” Sheryl said. “We certainly didn’t see people that were hurting to eat.”  

When Sheryl started the Doctor of Pharmacy program at the University of Arizona, she was responsible for putting herself through school, leaving her “pretty broke most of the time.”

She recalled being a frequent visitor of a cheese line near Fairview and Grant in central Tucson and how it was a good day if they had chicken or eggs available.

“As I grew and as I got older, I realized that my passions were making sure people were fed and housed and educated.”

After college, Sheryl went out on her own and built a career in pharmaceutical services throughout the U.S., landing back in Tucson in 2010. Not long after returning, a chance encounter as a result of her car being towed led Sheryl to start volunteering with Primavera.

While eating a burger with a friend at the now-closed Shot In The Dark Café in downtown Tucson, Sheryl watched her car be towed away. Despite her friend being retired and living on a fixed income, he insisted on covering half the cost of the tow.

“I mean, I couldn’t keep him from giving me this money and I felt so bad about having taken it and him having given it to me,” she said. “I felt like I needed to do something with the money.”

After researching different organizations in Tucson, Sheryl decided on Primavera Foundation.

“It wasn’t just a place to get a meal,” she said. “Primavera actually helps get people back into jobs and back into homes, so that worked for me.”

She started volunteering by working with her friends to make large meals for the Primavera Men’s Shelter.

Sheryl knew that a lot of the food that was dropped off included pre-made items like trays of lasagna, so she wanted to make them a special summer barbecue.

The meal included between 25 and 50 chickens that a friend helped grill, coleslaw, potato salad, rolls, pineapple upside down cake and brownies, but the most important part was the connections made through food.

“I still cry talking about this story,” she said. “So, we got everything all ready and the guys come in and we took the cover off the chicken and the look on this man’s face … We both caught each other’s eyes and he went, ‘You barbecued it.’ I think at that moment we almost both started bawling.”

In 2012, Sheryl began organizing smaller groups of volunteers to form meal teams that would put together bag lunches and deliver them for the participants in the Primavera Works program.

Recently, Sheryl faced three separate cancer diagnoses, so her focus shifted toward simplifying her life.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped her from giving back, as she still maintains contact with Primavera’s Volunteer Coordinator, Eric Cross, and set up a monthly delivery of food items via Amazon.

Sheryl said she now hopes to focus on strategies for providing more housing for women, one of Primavera’s goals.

There are limited emergency shelter options in Tucson and in Pima County for unsheltered women. Last year, 483 women were in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or safe haven, and more than 67% of those women were unsheltered, according to the Tucson Pima Collaboration to End Homelessness.

Primavera Foundation is working hard to increase women’s emergency and transitional housing through its Friends Campaign, this year’s season of Cooks! and a golf outing in September.

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