It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year since Second Harvest’s very first Cooking Matters course took place. It feels like it happened yesterday; I still know all the names and faces of the kids that participated in that course. I remember thinking that my brand new volunteers and I had our work cut out for us with the kids at that first course. There was a resounding groan when it was announced that black bean and vegetable quesadillas were going to be made the first day. To our surprise, and relief, after the kids smelled spinach being sautéed in canola oil and cayenne pepper they had a change of heart. The kids who made the biggest fuss about the recipe selection were the ones who came back for second and third helpings of their delicious quesadillas. Having the opportunity to see their attitudes change in a matter of 2 hours made me realize how much of an impact Cooking Matters was capable of delivering.
It took coordinating a few courses to really figure out why going with the flow is so important. There were a few instances early on where handouts and recipes went missing, supplies broke, noodles burnt- yes, it’s possible- or ingredients were forgotten. I mean, Peanut Butter Banana Pockets without bananas don’t sound so bad. I learned that coordinating back-to-back courses at one host site is a great way to increase impact while maximizing resources; however, when the courses are held in a large kitchen/classroom space on the second floor of a downtown building where one of the two not-so-powerful air conditioners decides to die in mid-July, it no longer seems like such a good idea to hold 4+ hours of class at one site.
Whether a class ran less than smoothly or was delivered perfectly, it was easy to see how much the participants got out of being there, talking with volunteers and each other and physically making recipes on their own. My favorite thing to see was participants having that “ah-hah!” moment, whether it was from information an instructor offered or advice from a fellow participant. Volunteers and I knew that something Cooking Matters gave them had officially clicked and that they were going to take that information home and put it to use. Even though there was always a little twinge of sadness at the graduation of each course, reading the participants’ comments about how Cooking Matters changed their life for the better in so many ways reminds me why this program is so important.
It is with great pride that I look back on the first year of Cooking Matters programming, and it is with a silly amount of excitement that we plan for the future expansion and continued impact of Cooking Matters in Second Harvest’s service area. It’s impossible to foresee Cooking Matters growing without the help and support of the inspiring people I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the past year. I am so thankful for the host site staff members that tirelessly arrange and re-arrange class work spaces and remind participants to attend class each week and for the volunteers who generously donate their time, talent, and energy to help participants learn such crucial life skills. With these amazing people by my side, I look forward to many more Cooking Matters courses that not only feed participants, but that teach participants how to create nutritious meals on a budget.
– Ainsley H. Benner,
Cooking Matters Coordinator for Second Harvest Food Bank of Lehigh Valley and Northeast PA who is responsible for recruiting and training expert volunteer instructors and developing partnerships with community agencies to host Cooking Matters courses.
Editor’s Note: Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters is an interactive cooking and nutrition education course that aims to empower low-income families, adults, teens, and kids to prepare healthy meals on a budget. These six-week courses are taught by volunteer culinary and nutrition professionals through once-weekly, two hour classes. In 2011, Second Harvest Food Bank of Lehigh Valley and Northeast PA became the first and only Cooking Matters Lead Partner in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Second Harvest offers Cooking Matters in partnership with Share Our Strength.