The Second Harvest Kitchen recently completed an expansion of its in-house kitchen to provide more space for cooking classes, demonstrations and community gatherings.
Increased demand from individuals for nutritional education and scratch cooking classes fueled the need for a kitchen overhaul, said Julie Humphreys, community relations manager at Second Harvest.
The 457-square-foot expansion – which includes construction of a multipurpose room to house a communal dining table and an additional restroom – began in September and was completed three months later to bring the total kitchen space to 2,107 square feet.
“We’re thrilled there’s an interest,” Humphreys said. “We expanded the space not only so we can have more people in the cooking classes, but to provide community space. People want to sit down and break bread together.”
The $85,000 expansion was paid for by community donors and in-kind labor and materials from local companies.
Second Harvest since 1949 has been distributing food to more than 250 food banks across 26 counties in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. Every week, five semitrucks deliver fresh fruit and produce from farmers and grocery stores to the facility for distribution.
However, the organization noticed people in food bank lines were turning down fresh produce, which is about half of the food they distribute.
“Often they would say ‘No, thank you’ when offered fresh produce because they didn’t know what to do with it,” said Humphreys. “We said we need to help teach folks how to use produce and stretch their budgets.”
A $425,000 in-house kitchen was built in 2015 to teach cooking skills, budgeting and to provide cooking classes.
Second Harvest provides two types of classes: paid demonstration-style classes that teach cooking with an Instant Pot pressure cooker or how to make Indian-style curry; and a free, community hands-on cooking class that’s open to everyone, but designed toward low-income individuals who learn how to cook healthy foods distributed by Second Harvest and food banks.
With the kitchen expansion, it allows Second Harvest to host 10 more people for demonstration-style classes and the community classes have more room to cook as well as enjoy a meal together after class at the communal dining table.
Gonzaga University senior Ali Schultheis – who is interested in food justice and reforming food systems – began leading a group of volunteer teachers last fall for the community cooking classes.
“I love how (the classes) make eating healthy and affordable,” she said.
Schultheis said the kitchen expansion is welcome because space in the previous work area became cramped during classes, which made it difficult for people to cook and eat.
“Once people got here, they didn’t want to stick around,” she said. “The new dining area makes it more of a priority to get people to sit down and eat together.”
Sada Showell last year attended her first community cooking class led by James Beard-nominated chef Laurent Zirotti.
Showell in 2015 experienced homelessness, and as a result she forgot how to cook. Now back on her feet, she enjoys learning about nutrition, gathering new recipes and connecting with people in the cooking classes.
“By coming here, I realized I was making things better for me and my husband and getting us back on the path of health,” she said.
Yvonne Secrist attended her first community cooking class a year ago and returned Tuesday evening to cook salmon patties, garlic hummus and a mixed berry banana-baked oatmeal. She said the classes are a huge benefit for low-income people who can’t afford regular cooking classes.
“I really want to learn to cook and everyone is friendly here,” she said, adding that she wants to take more classes. “I plan to make it a routine and bring a friend of mine that’s new to the area.”
The expanded kitchen also allows Second Harvest Nutrition Ambassadors more space to continue providing sample meals for their mobile market that distributes more than 8,000 pounds of food to schools, community centers and high-need neighborhoods.
If Second Harvest is distributing lentils and carrots, the ambassadors will make a lentil stew and take Crock-Pots to the site, said Humphreys.
Because people are able to sample the food and learn about its nutritional value, they come back next month and ask for recipes, or may come in and take a cooking class, she said.
“We are bringing the food out to folks who need it,” she said. “We’re striving to provide healthy food to every person every day.”