As many of you know, for the past couple of years I've been volunteering some time as a chef instructor of Share Our Strength's "Cooking Matters" classes in and around Boston. Over the years I've told you a little about what this organization means to me, but today I thought I'd dedicate an entire post to the incredible people who make Cooking Matters (CM) work, and to perhaps encourage a few of you out there to think about volunteering with CM yourselves.
I'm particularly excited to tell you more about CM today because I had the good fortune a few months back to be one of the instructors that were featured in eight new vidoes created as training resources for new recruits and existing volunteer instructors. Each video highlights a facet of the teaching philosophy espoused by the organization, and shows real volunteers demonstrating "best practices" in a classroom setting. For all of the times I've thought of adding videos to this blog, this was my first time in front of a camera. Please try not to laugh.
Each class is staffed with a CM coordinator (read Rock Star) and two or three others, a chef volunteer, a nutritionist volunteer, and often times a volunteer assistant to help with prep and clean-up. Classes are designed for a range of participants. Some focus on teaching skills to moms with young families, some to expectant moms, and some are geared toward teaching kids how to cook. Most of the classes I've taught have been for moms and grandmothers (and yes, sometimes dads and grandfathers) eager to learn more about cooking and nutrition so that they can better provide for their families while living on a tight budget.
All the food we cook together is low-cost, healthy, and quick to put on the table. I teach them to prepare "whole" foods from scratch for their families while our nutritionist educates them as to the health benefits of this type of eating over the diet of cheap, highly processed foods they are accustomed to. Every class is a revelation for these folks, and each subsequent session starts with stories about how their newly acquired skills are playing at home. Almost without exception we hear how their kids are trying (and liking) new foods, how their spouses are excited to try the new dishes they'll learn in class that day, and how each participant puts their own stamp on the recipes we teach them when they cook them at home with the ingredients they leave class with each week.
These folks really start cooking and paying attention to nutrition, and it is awesome to see.
At the end of our six weeks together we all leave the class changed in some way for the better. The participants leave on an entirely new track, confident in their ability to cook real, tasty food for their families, and cognizant of the nutritional benefits of doing so. Many have already seen health improvements in their families, and are feeling better about themselves for providing healthier meals to their loved ones. We facilitators leave feeling a great deal of pride at what we've accomplished in such a short period of time, making a real difference in the lives of people who had the will to change, but just needed a little help with the way.
I strongly urge any of you out there who have the time and the interest in helping to foster real change in the lives of some folks in need to contact your local Cooking Matters group and become a volunteer. Volunteering only takes 2-3 hours a week for each six week class. If you have some formal training in nutrition, or have some experience behind a stove, CM could use your skills and wisdom. If you happen to live in the Boston area and would like a personal introduction to the fabulous team that runs CM here, just drop me a line through "Oui, Chef" and I'd be happy to provide just that.
To learn more about the awesome work that Cooking Matters does, click here, or watch the volunteer training videos that I've embedded in this post. To see all the terrific videos produced, and even more of my brilliant, Oscar worthy performances, click here.
Cheers! – Steve