It was the last day of class and everyone crowded around a small table, laughing and catching up before heading to the kitchen. As they began cooking, the women of this Cooking Matters class eagerly questioned the chef about the root vegetables they were preparing and offered each other tips on crafting their turkey meatloaf.
Six weeks ago, it was a different scene. At the first class, everyone spread out across four tables. They were silent in the minutes before class and hesitant in the kitchen. Most of these women had never met. One young woman was new to town and struggling to meet new people.
Now at the last class, everyone exchanged phone numbers and hugs, and made plans to see each other—maybe even cook together. They snapped photos on their cell phones with their arms around each other and requested pictures of them posing with their graduation certificates.
And the woman who was new to town? She was about to start a temporary job at the county elections office, and requested information about volunteering at Oregon Food Bank. She and two other young women had formed a close bond and were planning on getting together soon.
Later, I read comments the women wrote on their surveys and reflected on what they told me as they left class:
“You gave me my confidence back – learning how to cook has made me feel so much more confident about everything.”
“I learned that I can use basic ingredients and come up with healthy and filling recipes that will bless my family.”
It is both rewarding and inspiring to watch people learn to use knives safely, choose healthy, cost-effective ingredients, and prepare delicious meals over the course of a six-week Cooking Matters class. I have heard stories of families using their newfound shopping skills to stretch their SNAP benefits further, of children asking for seconds of vegetables they always hated. One woman lost 15 pounds and reversed her pre-diabetes.
But this class opened my eyes to how much further Cooking Matters can reach. It was truly amazing to watch the women become friends over their shared experiences in class. The experience of preparing and sharing meals each week made a family of strangers.
I came away with a renewed appreciation for what Cooking Matters accomplishes in the kitchen and the grocery store, but also in participants’ lives. Over the six weeks of class, these women gained confidence in the kitchen and learned valuable budgeting and nutrition information – but even more than that, they became a community.
Erin Carver is a Cooking Matters AmeriCorps member at Oregon Food Bank, where she coordinates Cooking Matters courses and works to raise awareness about food assistance programs in the Portland metro area. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Lewis & Clark College, but her future education will lead her to a career addressing food insecurity on individual and policy levels. Erin divides her free time evenly between the kitchen and the trails of the Pacific Northwest.