Hello all! Happy (almost) New Year!
Please join me in giving a huge congratulations to our volunteer chef, Dee. Dee has been volunteering with Cooking Matters for almost two years. Within this time she has not only assisted with 13 courses, but also provided her time and effort for additional Cooking Matters needs, such as helping us with laundry that has been collected from all our classes on a weekly basis. Dee has made a huge impact on our efforts, and we are extremely thankful to have her with us.
While watching Dee instruct a class, you can immediately see her ability to grasp the attention of the room, yet she also makes sure to encourage discussion regarding any questions or comments that may arise. Part of this ability for balancing the class like this is likely due to Dee’s strong background in facilitation; starting out as a middle school educator, she transitioned to human resources, and from there she moved on to consulting. “So I taught all sorts of the soft side of things, you know, taught people conflict resolution and facilitated groups that were having problems, or trying to do a strategic plan for an organization. I did all that kind of work, and coaching.”
When asked about what inclined her to the Cooking Matters program specifically, Dee explains that as she transitioned out of her full time career, she was able to work less for the sake of money and able to find more opportunities that aligned with her passion for food justice. “…to me the question is, ‘how could it be that anybody doesn’t have what it takes to put a healthy meal on the table for their family, regardless of income?’ It just seems like such a basic right.” She expresses her appreciation for assisting participants achieve empowerment through the provision of information regarding false marketing on products, and learning alternative options or cooking methods that allow participants to make their own choices.
One aspect of Dee’s introduction to Cooking Matters included a perception of expertise necessary to fill our instructor roles. I’m sure this wariness is shared with many of our volunteers when they first join, which is why I’m so glad the topic came up. When she first started, Dee intended to take the class assistant role because, although she had over 40 years’ experience cooking for her family, she did not believe she fit the qualifications for the Chef role. However, as Dee quickly realized through her volunteering experience and even before, skills in facilitation for our Cooking Matters instructor roles are also highly valued.
Describing the instance when she was requested to become a chef, she said, “And so, somebody called me and asked ‘will you be a chef?’ and I said ‘I’m not a chef, I’m just a cook.’ They said ‘Yeah, but you’re a facilitator,’ and it’s really as important to get people involved as it is to have the people who know everything about cooking…” Dee then explains how this understanding is developed throughout the progression of classes as well. “And, actually, after the first class, I do very little demonstration. I show people a little bit about knife skills and a little bit about chopping. If we come across an unusual vegetable, I’ll demonstrate how to chop it. But mostly, people are just doing it themselves and I’m just there to help them understand how it all gets together…”
As we started to discuss her favorite aspects of this program, Dee was able to talk about a significant moment that actually happened during a class that had preceding our interview. One of the participants had expressed his dislike of the recipe (carrot pineapple muffins) and yet, despite his underlying opinions of the ingredients, he gave it a try and ended up eating four. We were able to discuss what aspects of class may contribute to this willingness to try new foods that are prepared in class. Dee interpreted the empowerment encouraged through the class to be a major factor. “I think when you’re cooking together, you’re in community, which people love… So, I think part of it’s the community and part of it’s getting to make it yourself, and so you see what goes in it and you begin to realize that you’re in charge.”
When asked what advice she has for other volunteers, Dee avidly recommended signing up for multiple classes. “You get more out of it. I mean I’m learning all the time. Cooking techniques, community building, just cooking tips that participants have that I go ‘no kidding, I never thought of that, hey I’m going to try that.’”
Aside from signing up for multiple classes, Dee also expressed her interest in making sure Cooking Matters courses have all the volunteers needed for classes to run smoothly. One source she recommended while keeping an eye out for new recruits… the participants!
“One of the things I think would be really cool to recruit volunteers is, we have some participants in the class who are really kind of outstanding in certain ways. And, I’ve recommended to some participants ‘you should volunteer for Cooking Matters’. But I wonder if we had a way of passing on to the coordinator names and saying these people have evidenced interest in being part of the class.”
As recommended by Dee, while we begin our next round of Cooking Matters classes, let’s make sure participants are aware of the opportunity to join our team of fantastic volunteers.
Thank you Dee!