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Feeding the Flock One Brisket at a Time

Despite two types of cancer, Brenda Castaldo perseveres with a culinary calling to service others.

Raised on a 5,000-acre sheep farm in Vale, South Dakota, a community of 136 just north of Sturgis, Brenda L. Castaldo, 56, is no stranger to hard work. She recalls rising at 4:30 a.m. as a child to do chores before heading off to school. A foul-smelling powdered milk mixture fed to bummer lambs made her gag. After classes, she would change clothes and grab a bite from the fridge to eat in the fields so she could feed the sheep before dark; once night falls, sheep won’t eat.

Now, years later, Castaldo is still feeding sheep, only this time it’s the flock of God. Through the ministry of Life 360, in Springfield, Missouri, Castaldo pours her life into others one brisket at a time. She prepares meals for Life360 and community events, feeding those who have a need both inside and outside the church.

“I’ve been doing this since childhood,” says Castaldo who also owns a catering business. “It was a way of life instilled in me at a very young age.”

She recalls as a child taking meals out to the field to her parents and siblings as they worked. Castaldo also remembers watching her mother prepare meals for the church and community, a practice instrumental in shaping who she is today.

In 2010, at the age of 46, Castaldo’s life shifted dramatically when she learned she had breast cancer. After watching her mother suffer a painful death from the same disease at 55, Castaldo decided to aggressively fight her cancer with radiation and high-intensity chemo treatments. The side effects from treatments debilitated her. They left a metallic taste in her mouth, particularly distressing her because of her involvement in cooking.

Although Castaldo is now cancer free and again can taste the food she prepares, she suffers with heart problems and neuropathy in her hands as a result of her treatments.

“What I’ve learned from watching Brenda over the years is the importance of serving,” says close friend Rose Hinton, who has been in ministry for four decades, including a quarter century as an Assemblies of God world missionary. “When she serves, she doesn’t need accolades. She has a servant’s heart.”

In 2017, Castaldo began experiencing a new set of troubling symptoms. She lost her balance and took a couple of hard falls. Hearing in her right ear also started to fail. After seeing a neurosurgeon and undergoing a series of tests, Castaldo learned she had a benign brain tumor, located next to her brain stem and behind her right ear. Her surgery, which took over 10 hours, left her with partial facial paralysis and the inability to close her right eye. Besides unbearable pain, her eye tended to close when she grew tired, and she couldn’t reopen it.

“My brain surgery affected me more physically than my breast cancer,” says Castaldo, the mother of seven children. Despite her physical challenges, she continues to do what she loves: cooking and serving others through her culinary calling.

“I’ve never known her to feel sorry for herself or complain,” says Hinton, who now is a U.S. missionary chaplain. “I don’t think I’ve met anyone quite like her that serves as genuinely as she does.”

Castaldo’s husband of 32 years, Ken, says his wife’s medical ordeals have strengthened his faith.

“She kept me on edge for quite a while, but she’s a fighter,” says Ken, who has worked an environmental services overnight shift at Mercy Hospital for 26 years.

Castaldo also suffers from short-term memory loss as a result of her brain tumor and surgery. Although she sometimes struggles, she emphasizes the importance of prayer and cultivating a relationship with God and others.

“God understands when we get angry and have questions and want to scream,” she says.

Mary J Yerkes

Mary J. Yerkes is a freelance writer based in metro Washington, D.C.