Best Practices:

Community Action and On-site Food Demos: A Quick and Easy Way to Highlight Pantry Staples

Like many food providers, Arla Mae Freeman of Shepherd’s Heart Care Center laments seeing the food she gives out go unused when Skagit County clients are unclear on how to prepare or cook ingredients. However, as a food bank with limited staff and resources, she knew that holding comprehensive cooking classes to improve her clients’ food knowledge was a challenge. “We tried offering cooking classes, but there were many factors that made this difficult,” she recalled. “Firstly, there wasn’t a lot of turn-out. Clients are not going to come to the program on days that the food bank is not open if they’re driving over fifteen miles each way. Gas prices are too high for them to make multiple visits. Secondly, if we held them after food bank hours, hanging around after food distribution isn’t practical. When clients who visit are carpooling with multiple families, and come without coolers, they cannot stick around with frozen food thawing in their cars.” 

Arla Mae then turned to Community Action of Skagit County and WSU for ideas. Working with Cole Bitzenberg from Community Action, Shepherd’s Heart Care Center morphed the cooking class concept to on-site food demonstrations held during food distribution hours. “As they come through the door and peruse our clothing while they wait, we hand out samples and talk with them one-on-one about the food. Very few people dislike the recipes. And quite a few people actually do make them when they get home. We’ve held monthly cooking demos four to five times now, and we’ve gotten great feedback from clients,” she says.
When asked for her advice for those thinking about featuring food demos, she emphasized the need to pick out simple recipes using a maximum of five main ingredients. WSU Extension Service is a good source to help you. “We look for staples, such as food from Northwest Harvest, and put together recipes and supply all main ingredients to hand-out to clients.” For example, her Easter Glorified Rice recipe featured the food bank staples rice and pineapple. Then she included the whipping cream and marshmallows. She also thoughtfully sets up a display table highlighting all ingredients to ensure clients know how and what to use. Arla Mae’s idea seems a success, as they had 85 families come through last month who loved the Salmon Patties Cole fried up during the agency’s open hours. ”The week following our last food demo, a father came in and said, ‘Heh, that recipe you gave us last week? I made it, and the kids ate it!’ Big smile! Now that’s what I call success!”
Thank you Arla Mae and Shepherd’s Heart Care Center for doing such a great job in getting NWH products out to clients in such a creative and tasty way!