Not quite gourmet
Sandra Martin has become a master of camouflaging foods that her picky sons don’t like.
She sneaks powdered milk into homemade ice cream. She grinds up tofu and mixes it with hamburger.
“My kids don’t notice the difference,” Martin said with a laugh. “We aren’t eating gala foods, but it tastes good.”
Tips like those from Martin have been formalized in a series of cooking classes that teach low-income parents and families how to survive on a tight budget. The only catch: The meals are prepared with ingredients commonly available at local food banks.
“We focus on recipes that use the foods people are receiving,” said Rhonda Hause, a nutrition assistant from Washington State University. “If we have a surplus of dried milk that week, we teach recipes that use dried milk.”
The program was highlighted Thursday by Second Harvest of the Inland Northwest, in conjunction with the release of its 18th annual client survey. The nonprofit, which supplies 21 food banks in Spokane County, has encouraged innovative programs as it struggles to keep up with the demand for its food. Second Harvest also serves food banks in North Idaho, but they were not included in the survey.
Despite hints of an economic recovery in Washington state, the food banks remain as busy as ever, serving more than 16,000 clients every month in Spokane County. Since July, the food banks have seen an 11 percent increase in the number of clients.
“The general recovery has not seemed to reach those people standing in our lines,” said Jason Clark, the nonprofit’s executive director. “These are the poorest of the poor.”
The survey reported that more than 90 percent of food bank clients earn less than $11,450 a year. Nearly half the clients are children. About 1,100 senior citizens visit a Second Harvest food bank each month.
Perhaps even more surprising, Clark said, was the increase in the percentage of unemployed clients. Last year, 49 percent of recipients reported working full or part time, Clark said. This year, only 29 percent had employment.
For many, the unemployment has been persistent. Jackie Richardson, a 45-year-old single mother, last held a steady job in 1993, when she worked as an office assistant in Spokane.
“I’ve learned how to stretch the budget,” Richardson said.
In a conference room at East Central Community Center, Richardson listened carefully to a roiling discussion on the uses of powdered milk – a staple of many low-income diets. The cooking classes are supported by a collection of local organizations: Second Harvest provides food. Nutrition assistants from Washington State University teach easy-to-make, low-cost meals. Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs lends the space.
“It feels like you’re participating in the community,” Richardson said. “That idea of community isn’t very prevalent anymore.”
Nutrition workers passed out recipes for double chocolate zucchini brownies and pumpkin pie squares with powdered milk to a dozen people.
“Tip: Don’t buy garlic salt,” Brandi Anderson told the class. “Take a little garlic powder and add salt.”
Anderson also recommended buying turkeys soon, before the Thanksgiving rush boosted prices.
The tips snowballed and were soon bouncing around the table. You can buy low-sodium Worcestershire sauce, one woman said to her neighbor. Try the tomato soup recipe, another suggested.
At the end of the class, people helped load sacks of food onto Richardson’s wheelchair. Martin – who first visited the food bank this summer – collected bags of apples, portobello mushrooms and onions.
“I had to swallow my pride to come here,” she said. “But everyone was very nice to me. It made it a whole lot easier.”