2020 was a hard year for most people, and it was no exception for Jennifer Dassau. And it wasn’t because she was packing and delivering upwards of 15,000 meals a week for her non-profit, working nearly 100-hour weeks, and constantly worrying if she would run out of food and funding for the community, all in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was a hard year because she lost a personal hero; her father.
“My dad was the most amazing person. He was so generous and selfless,” Dassau, 49, of Marlow said.
Her father battled bone cancer for a few years, but passed from a cardiac event only a few weeks ago.
“He’d be proud of me,” she said reflecting on her accomplishments.
It would be hard not to be.
In the past year, Dassau has been recognized for her selfless, generous efforts and has been racking up awards. In 2020, she was nominated as one of Keene’s Extraordinary Women from The Keene Sentinel and a Hometown Hero from The Granite State Children’s Alliance, New Hampshire’s network of Child Advocacy Centers.
A hero to so many, it is a no-brainer that she was is one of 16 locals who was nominated as a recipient of the 2021 Everyday Hero; someone who distinguished themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Monadnock Region.
A no-brainer for everyone, except Dassau.
“It’s crazy! I had no idea,” Dassau said sipping iced tea and smiling through the Zoom screen one afternoon. “Every time I’ve gotten an award, I’m surprised!”
Dassau is the founder of Feeding Tiny Tummies, a Keene nonprofit that combats food insecurity among children in Cheshire and Sullivan counties. Founded in 2017, the organization has grown from serving 36 families to nearly 600 families a week.
She also became a Guardian Ad Litem last year, advocating for the best interest of children involved in legal proceedings and currently has upwards of a dozen cases. A typical day for Dassau could include hours in the courthouse as a GAL, writing grants to secure more funding for FTT, collecting and checking produce before packing it with meals, taking out the trash, and caring for her two dachshunds when she’s home.
She admitted she tries to stay particularly busy now to keep her mind occupied from thinking about the loss of her dad.
“I don’t mind being busy though, there’s always more work to be done!” she said.
Dassau’s humble attitude belies her grief, but her modest-way appears to be intrinsic, coursing through her families’ blood.
Maggie Dragon, 24, of Keene and Shelby Arlen, 30, of Swanzey, Dassau’s daughters, are both homecare providers for adults with disabilities.
“I absolutely am the person I am today because of her,” Dragon said. “Talk about our mother’s daughters!” Dragon added that despite her grandfather’s hard upbringing and recent illness, it didn’t stop him from being a “wonderful,” “generous” and “outgoing” person.
Arlen, who is also the Assistant Director of Feeding Tiny Tummies, echoed her sister’s remarks about their grandfather. “He was a hero. He was that one man we all could count on … our own cowboy. He fought until the end,” Arlen said.
Heather Dubriske, Dassau’s nominator for the Everyday Hero award, said the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Dubriske and Dassau met working for the state. When Dassau left to pursue her non-profit work full-time in 2017, she took classes through the New Hampshire Food Bank and it was there that Feeding Tiny Tummies was born.
Dubriske said an outsider wouldn’t have noticed the personal struggles Dassau went through the past year. She explained how Dassau was flying to Florida frequently to help care for her dad but never missed a beat back here in Keene.
“Above and beyond is an understatement for the amount of work she does … that woman, Jesus, she deserves every shout out! Even through the blood sweat and tears she doesn’t stop. She does it all,” she said.
“I really hope this doesn’t get censored because honestly, she’s a badass super woman!”