The Valley Center is cooking up something new for food bank users: Hands-on classes in which clients learn how to prepare low-cost, healthy meals.
Sue Armstrong, extension service instructor, is teaching the six-class cooking course. This week's recipe was a nutritious substitute for Hamburger Helper.
"It's cheaper, too. Let's see, we figure 20 cents for the pasta, 50 cents for the soup. The meat is about 40 cents and a half package of frozen vegetables is 50 cents. That's $1.60," Armstrong said.
The cooking classes became possible in June, after remodeling provided a new classroom with kitchen facilities at the Valley Center. The work was possible due to a $7,750 donation from the Sunrise Rotary Club.
"The food bank had been wishing for something like this for a long time, but it wasn't possible without a kitchen," said Barbara Bennett, food bank director. The Spokane Food Bank requires all its members to provide some sort of education. "With welfare reform, we've all got to make some changes," she added.
From a woman who babysits five grandkids and sells Shaklee, to a college student and single mom who has time only to open cans for dinner, the women gathered for Wednesday's cooking class were eager to add their own kitchen tales.
Grandmother Jeane Martin offered dessert ideas for children: cottage cheese and fruit, or chopped dates rolled in coconut.
A slender young mother told of her early attempts to make tortillas for her husband.
"I can't make them round," said Cheryl Davila.
"I'll teach you how to make them round," Armstrong. "Don't you worry, we'll get along just fine."
Armstrong talked up the virtues of vegetables, breads and grains, and suggested that homeowners who ignore their fruit trees might allow would-be jam makers to put the fruit to good use.
She also mentioned that dishes from the kitchen were missing.
"I'm sure it wasn't anyone here who took them. Please do remember not to take any of the equipment home," she said politely.
All the while, the pasta, meat and soup simmered on the stove. Vegetables were added at the last minute and, voila, a meal.
Interest from food bank clients has been moderate, Bennett said. Eventually such a course may become required.
For now, Bennett said she's surprised by some of her regulars who signed up for and stuck with the first course.
"For one of them I think the most important thing we showed her was how important it was to wash her hands."