A couple of Saturdays ago, on a gorgeous sunny day when many Berkeley residents were likely heading out for a hike, contemplating another coffee, or barely out of bed, I stopped by a cooking class taught at Ursula Sherman Village on Harrison Street, a transitional living facility for the homeless in West Berkeley.
Sponsored by Operation Frontline, a national program that offers cooking classes to low-income families, the class of eager kids and interested adults was the final in a free six-week series designed to help people living on a little to eat healthy, inexpensive, tasty food.
Starting June 22nd, Kitchen on Fire, a cooking school in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, offers their latest round of Operation Frontline classes. This series, serving mostly African American seniors, is full for both participants and volunteers.
Operation Frontline is a program of Share Our Strength, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger.
This January, the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association and Fresh Approach were selected to implement Operation Frontline’s cooking curriculum in the San Francisco Bay Area. “In the six weeks we try to cover a lot of bases — new foods, healthy eating, and how to plan meals,” says PCFMA’s Sarah Nelson, who oversees the program.
What I watched going on that Saturday was inspiring. Yes, inspiring is an overused word. Sorry, that was my takeaway observing a trio of good samaritans, actively engaged in the prepping, cooking, and consuming of nutritious food with families of wee ones. On the menu that day: Freshly squeezed orange juice and make-your-own omeletes chock full of veggies like spinach, squash, and peppers.
So kudos to Johnasies McGraw, Elyssia Schtaklef, and Aaron Hardisty. “Feeding people is a form of love,” says Kaiser Permanente employee Hardisty, explaining why he volunteers his time. (Kaiser provides grant funds for the classes.) “And I like that this program brings together both the personal and professional parts of my life.”
For recent nutrition graduate Schtaklef, the classes are a way to put her academic training into practice. “I love how the kids are really open to trying new food,” she says. “And how excited they get about making food and eating different dishes.”
Says class chef McGraw, an avid home cook: “This is a no-brainer for me. I love food. I’m interested in food justice and food access issues. It’s a great opportunity to teach people about simple, nutritious ways to eat well.”
And did I mention that volunteers and participants alike look liked they were having a lot of fun making a meal together?
What’s great about the volunteer program (aside from the dedicated volunteers, good food, and worthy cause) is that all participants go home armed with a bag of produce to replicate recipes in their own kitchens.
Want to help out? You don’t need to be a pro chef, trained nutritionist, or cooking teacher. An interest in food and an eagerness to help less fortunate folks eat well will stand you in good stead. You do need to attend a training session and commit to a six-week class (each about four hours per week).
And, of course, along with whipping up delicious food and helping tiny or uncertain hands use a knife, you need to cheerfully do your share of grunt work like washing dishes and cleaning up. But, I think it’s safe to say, you’ll leave feeling satiated in more ways than one.
For readers in other U.S. cities look here to see if Operation Frontline offers classes near you.
Photos by Sarah Nelson