“Absolutely love it!” – That’s how RSVP volunteer Louise Green enthusiastically describes her experience with the Solid Ground program Cooking Matters. “I Can’t say enough about the program and organization. Simply wonderful!”
Cooking Matters partners with other organizations in low-income communities to provide hands-on education, combining cooking, nutrition, menu planning, and kitchen safety and sanitation. The program is comprised of six weekly, two-hour classes to groups of 8-15 students recruited by partner organizations. The setup is mobile with the only requirements being a sink and students eager to learn.
Each Cooking Matters ‘team’ consists of a staff coordinator and three trained volunteers: a Cooking Facilitator, a Nutrition Facilitator, and a Class Assistant. Louise, who has already participated as a member of five teams and has signed up for two more, is a Class Assistant. A Class Assistant helps with setup, food prep, cleanup, preparing take-home bags, and anything else that needs to be done to make the experience run smoothly.
But Louise’s satisfaction doesn’t come from the work itself, rather from “…watching people working together, chatting, supporting each other, and socializing.”
A typical class starts with a menu followed by a cooking lesson. Students then, with help from team members when needed, prepare the meal. When the cooking’s done, everyone (students and team members) sits together to enjoy the food. As a final bonus, each student leaves with a menu and a bag full of groceries so they can make the meal at home.
The goals of each meal are inexpensive, nutritious, easily attainable ingredients and easy prep. Louise cites tacos and lasagna as examples of typical meals. As an added hands-on experience, most Cooking Matter classes go to a grocery store where they learn how to read labels and how to make ingredient substitutions. (Or, as Louise describes it, (“Work with what you’ve got!”) In addition, participants are given a $10 gift certificate and challenged to shop for a nutritious meal for a family of four.
Louise’s work with Cooking Matters has not gone unnoticed. As her staff supervisor, Lindsey Tran notes, “Louise’s service and commitment to Cooking Matters is exceptional. Through her enthusiastic and engaging manner, she has made an incredible impact in our program, empowering families and individuals with the confidence and creativity to buy, cook and eat nutritious foods daily.”
Louise was born in Southern California, became a CPA (Certified Public Accountant), and moved to Seattle in 1991. Working in a small CPA firm, her clients included small businesses and individuals. She loved her work (“engrossing” is the word she used) and she loved her clients. One aspect of the Seattle area that drew Louise here is the outdoor lifestyle. She enjoys hiking (Summerland in Mount Rainier is her favorite spot), biking, kayaking, “art” movies, gardening, travel, and, of course, cooking. Her favorite types of food are Asian and Middle Eastern because they involve minimal meat and lots and lots of vegetables.
Louise always intended to volunteer in retirement, but it took her a while to find her groove. Then she discovered Cooking Matters. Just like her career as a CPA, Louise loves “interacting with the students – the feeling that we’re all in it together.” And she loves what the program is all about: How to eat healthy, easily prepared food on a minimal budget. Or, as she puts it, “Real food for real people.”
Louise has a daughter she adores and three grandchildren she really, really adores who live on the East Coast. She makes sure to visit them at least five times a year, and the grandchildren take turns visiting her here during the summer.
As much as she loves her work as a class assistant, Louise aspires to the position of Cooking Facilitator. She says she lacks the teaching skills, but I think she was just being shy.
BREAKING NEWS: As I was poised over the ‘send’ button to deliver this story for publication, I received the following email from Louise: “Not sure if this might be too late for your article, BUT I’ve graduated to Cooking Facilitator!”
I could feel the pride coming through my computer screen. Well done, Chef Louise!