If you’ve attended a Bridges Out of Poverty training, you know how important it is to solicit input and involvement in problem solving from those in poverty as well as those in middle class and wealth. Although I’ve been actively involved in our county’s initiative for almost 3 years, I was recently reminded of why it’s so important that we listen when working on a community development program

We have several food pantries in our community, including 26 mobile food pantries each year that give out 10,000 pounds of food each time. There has been a movement for over a year now to increase the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as healthier food options in all of our pantries. In fact, this year we have consistently received bags of potatoes, fresh vegetables when in season and an increasing amount of fruit throughout the year. So, imagine the surprise of volunteers in our community when people were declining the fresh foods and stating that they preferred boxed and canned food.

Many in our community know that they can come to me and ask questions when there is something they don’t understand about poverty. My phone began to ring. I could use my education in Bridges, past experience working with families in need and my best reasoning skills to figure out why this lack of interest in fresh food was occurring, but I wanted to know more. I went to the Getting Ahead Graduates.

We held a focus group regarding food resources in the community and had great dialogue about the food available at the pantries. The input went something like this: “I’ve never cooked a potato so I don’t know what to do with it.” “I don’t have a knife big enough or sharp enough to cut a pineapple.” “Fresh green beans taste weird. They don’t taste like the canned kind.” “People tell me I should cook on Sundays then warm up the leftovers through the week. I don’t have any way to store the food I cook on Sunday for a whole week.”

Those reasons got us thinking—providing food is only one small part of the equation. So, we’re starting a cooking class! Getting Ahead Graduates will be involved with Graduate students from our local University to take a six-week cooking class.  Each class will include an educational time regarding how to prepare the food for the evening, nutrition information and storage tips. The group will then cook a meal together and eat together. At the conclusion of the six weeks, each participant will receive some cookware, cooking utensils, storage containers and a cookbook of all they did in class. The Getting Ahead Graduates assisted with planning the types of meals and provided feedback after a “practice session” so that the class can be designed to truly meet the need. All of the food and supplies are being provided by a generous anonymous donation to the University.

Looking at the potential for long-term sustainability, intergenerational transfer of knowledge and nutrition benefits provided by this class reminds me why we listen.

Carol Taylor is employed at Hope House in Findlay, OH as the Bridges Coordinator.  Carol has been a certified Bridges trainer since June 2009 and is an author of one of the chapters in the book Vision To Action. She says the greatest compliment she receives is, “Your passion about this work is very obvious.”