Being thrifty needed to fight hunger
By Mary Stamp
Just as the families Second Harvest serves need to be thrifty, Jason Clark, CEO of Second Harvest of the Inland Northwest, reminds staff to be thrifty as they search for food from farmers, producers and grocery stores.
In addition, The Kitchen at Second Harvest, which reopened in-person classes in February after being closed two years because of COVID, introduces clients to ways they can be thrifty by learning how to prepare the food Second Harvest offers, said Carolyn Negley, nutrition education manager.
"I teach cooking to help people maximize what they have from our food pantries, so they can squeeze the most from their grocery dollars and have great tasting, nutritious meals for less cost," she said.
"We promote confidence that they can cook at home for their families and friends," she said, "and know the food they prepare will benefit their bodies."
Not only does Carolyn focus on foods, but also she talks about "low-equipment cooking," because she is aware some may not have access to the cooking equipment The Kitchen has.
"If someone doesn't have a blender, they can use a masher or a spoon against the side of a bowl. They can also put food in a plastic bag and squeeze it with their hands or pound it with a rolling pin or the bottom of a pan," said Carolyn.
Her passion for cooking began when helping her Nana in the kitchen, times filled with love and laughter. It grew when she discovered that good nutrition improved her health. After earning a bachelor's degree from Presbyterian College in South Carolina in English and creative writing, she worked in a hospital helping staff transition from paper to computer records.
Health struggles led her to realize the impact of nutrition on her wellbeing, so she decided to move from Savannah to Washington to study to be a registered dietitian and share with others the power of eating healthful foods.
Carolyn earned a bachelor's in nutrition and exercise physiology and a master's in dietetics, nutrition and exercise physiology at Washington State University. She graduated in December, passed the national exam to be a registered dietitian in February and joined Second Harvest in March.
Eric Williams, communications director since August 2020, discussed some healthful, alternative recipes, such as "guacamole" made out of split peas, that costs less than avocados and recipes for lentils that are plentiful in this area.
Carolyn said split peas are a "nice alternative" because they are more reliable than avocados, which have a brief window between ripening and spoiling.
Another nutritious dish is West African peanut stew, made with a meat or vegetable soup stock, tomato paste, peanut butter, sweet potatoes, onions and kale or collard greens.
"Those vegetables last without spoiling. They are in season for Washington now," she said. "We emphasize seasonal eating and using foods we have ready access to in our warehouse or from partner agencies."
The Community Kitchen teaches 20 recipes for cooking lentils, including using them in desserts.
"Many think desserts are just extras, but our recipes make them with added protein and fiber from lentils and beans. We have a black bean brownie recipe," Carolyn said. "We teach people how to use foods they are less familiar with, such as rice, beans and lentils."
Because The Kitchen was closed during COVID, Melissa Johnson, the other nutrition education manager, temporarily worked in other programs.
Carolyn and Melissa now offer two onsite community classes a week. They promote the classes on the website, in fliers at community agencies, such as in libraries and veteran's programs where people receiving food assistance and experiencing hunger go.
Attendees must pre-register so teachers have the right amount of ingredients to keep the costs low. Usually, 10 to 20 people attend. Some come back several times. Many invite friends to come, Carolyn said.
Eric turned to statistics, which Second Harvest reports through Feeding America. Recently they reported that one in six children and one in nine in the general population are food insecure.
"We do quarterly surveys of food pantries and meal sites, and recently found an increase in clients of more than 45 percent from September 2021 to September 2022," Eric reported. "We had a flood of new people in January and February before the economic experts realized the impact of inflation. It hit our folks early.
"Our clients have a hard time deciding whether to buy groceries, pay rent or buy gas. They have to juggle those priorities," he said.
"We wish the number of food insecure and hungry people was zero," said Eric.
Jason, who has led Second Harvest's charitable food distribution in Eastern Washington and North Idaho for 20 years, has launched a "Crusade to End Hunger," using videos to tell of the nonprofit's work to challenge hunger. The first video is about the Bite2Go Program, and Lewis and Clark students helping put weekend food into backpacks for school children. The videos are at https://2-harvest.org/hungercrusade.
Eric said COVID skewed data, because it increased need and, for a time, increased government benefits and food.
"Now, most government food initiatives have ended, and statistics are discouraging," he said.
"One truck driver recently refueled the semi-truck for $906, compared with the usual cost of $500. Like the families we serve, we need to look at different ways to support our budget," Eric said.
"We need more donations of food and money, but in 2022 had a reduction in food donations," he said, explaining that apple and potato crops have been down, and food is more expensive. Farmers are generous, but given the low crop yields, we need to buy more food than normal. Food costs are up substantially."
He pointed to some empty shelves, saying that was rare when he first came on board.
Eric is glad that Second Harvest ordered Thanksgiving turkeys in January from the chain of suppliers and Rosauers, so while turkey has become less available because of bird flu over the summer, Second Harvest has a supply of turkeys for this year frozen and ready to give to people.
Part of being thrifty is having a database of 10,000 volunteers. Some come for just one day for the turkey drive, but others work every day.
"Four months after I came, I learned one man who was here every day was not an employee but a volunteer. Several volunteers come four days a week," Eric said.
The Kitchen relies on 10 volunteers. Two of them help with each class. Others give out samples at mobile markets and lead off-site classes.
"Some volunteers and staff were once clients of the food banks we supply," said Eric. "One woman began coming to a food bank while she was looking for a new job. After she found a job, she became a volunteer."
Carolyn shared that she was raised Methodist in a family who were involved in altruistic efforts. She also went on summer youth mission trips.
"My childhood instilled in me a passion for service. As an adult, I have made it my practice to serve the community. It gives me joy," she said.
Eric said volunteers and staff include people of all walks of life and faiths.
"At their core, they have serving others in their DNA," he said.
"Every day I hear someone comment on why they are involved. Sometimes in their work, such as at a mobile market, they are in the midst of the emotional tug-of-war seeing the needs and saying, 'Omigosh,' feeling overwhelmed with the need," said Eric. "Then they realize they help give the people food and help them stretch their food dollars. When they recognize how rewarding the work is and may again say, 'Omigosh!' They also are thankful realizing that the people who donate the food and money make it possible for them to help."
Many food pantries are affiliated with churches, but even those through schools or other agencies fill their teams with many volunteers who are "faith driven."
For some, faith is why they volunteer, he said.