The first half of my AmeriCorps year has been full of reminders that, like a village raising a child, it takes many different approaches to mitigate challenging issues in the community. When I first joined Wayside Food Programs in Portland, I realized that the organization coordinated a variety of hunger relief efforts, including running a food rescue warehouse, distributing food to pantries and other social service agencies, hosting free community meals and several mobile food pantries, and running community gardens, among other efforts.
My first thought of why the organization did so many things rather than focus on just one task quickly became overshadowed by the realization that it takes all of these different angles to effectively fight the effects of food insecurity and, just as importantly, its root causes. It also became immediately apparent that the organization did not merely have these programs for show; each one of them had a specific purpose and provided crucial services for other organizations and individuals.
My responsibilities as an AmeriCorps member include coordinating volunteers for Wayside’s Food Rescue program, assisting with food pickups and deliveries, helping to distribute food to our 42 partner agencies and the families served through our mobile food pantries, and facilitating cooking and nutrition classes for our clients and guests. During my time at Wayside I have realized that the educational aspect involved in providing classes is a critical piece of the puzzle. Combined with other efforts like our community garden program, it is the piece that gives our clients the best chance to attain self-sustainability.
This spring and summer, I am looking to reach out to our clients and invite them to participate in the cooking and nutrition classes we will be offering in hopes that the knowledge they gain will translate to a greater openness to eating healthy foods when they are available, and increased confidence in their ability to cook. We realize that our clients are operating on a budget and may lack the experience or confidence necessary to prepare healthy meals on their own. With this in mind, we are focused on teaching people incorporating healthy whole foods can fit within a budget and make for a tasty and healthy meal – whether cooking for one or for a family of 10. We want to inform those with little experience about the importance of food safety. And, ultimately, we want to leave people feeling empowered, confident, and excited about cooking.