St. Pete Chef Begins 2021 Giving Back to Community

Posted on Jan 10th 2021 by Lissette Campos

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When Florida Blue and the Tampa Bay Lightning  searched for local chefs to cook 500 meals on Christmas morning, finding one wasn't easy. The early morning wake-up call Dec. 25 was just one deterrent. Add to that, the perils of food preparation and distribution post COVID-19. St. Petersburg’s Melissa Gardner came to the rescue, along with her grandmother Thelma and her mom Michelle.

Gardner, affectionally known as Chef Melly, owns Three Generations Food Truck and cooked the 500 meals for Feeding Tampa Bay’s Trinity Café. Florida Blue covered the cost of the food and ingredients. Gardner didn’t just cook; she individually wrapped each and every meal. Trinity Café is a free, full-service restaurant for those who need a healthy meal. It offers a three-course, chef-prepared meal that’s served with dignity and respect to anyone in need, 365 days of the year.

On Christmas Day, the menu was a symphony of flavors: Cajun turkey, honey ham, smoked turkey, collard greens, smoked gouda and macaroni and cheddar cheese, 

Chef Melly’s helpers in the kitchen, from L to R, Michelle Gardner and Kenneth Walker. roasted garlic mashed potatoes and country green beans. For dessert, it wa

s banana pudding or Christmas cookies. (If your mouth isn't watering just reading t

his, your taste buds may be malfunctioning.)

Chef Lisa of Florida Chefs Workshop in St. Petersburg also gave a helping hand. Feeding Tampa Bay picked up and delivered the meals to both Trinity Café locations in Hillsborough County. All of that happened before 11:30 a.m. on Christmas morning. It’s enough to put Santa’s elves to shame.

“The most fulfilling moment in this food life is giving back to people in the community,” said Gardner, looking back on all the hours she put in to fix the soulful Christmas Day meals just right.

A passion for cooking and community service fueled her desire to be a part of this project. The small-business owner is a proud graduate of St. Petersburg College. A software engineer by trade, she is a chef by choice.

Just over a year ago, she took a leap of faith to start the food truck business. Giving her encouragement—and recipes—were her mom and grandmother, hence the name Three Generations Food Truck.

Florida Blue and our community partners certainly found an extraordinary woman to help in these extraordinary times. Gardner is positively a Tampa Bay treasure. With so many people racing to put 2020 behind them, she raced into 2021 to help.


Filed under: Community  


Lissette Campos

Lissette serves Florida Blue’s West Florida region, spanning from the Tampa Bay Area to Sarasota and Ft. Myers. The 30+ year communications veteran is also an eight-time Emmy award winning writer.

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