20 years ago, Ann Puddicombe attended a Community Kitchen out of need for her family. The mother of two young children was doing her best to make ends meet based on her husband’s small fixed income at the time. The key to meeting her family’s basic needs – and the success of the Community Kitchen – was being able to stretch the ingredients in her kitchen, what she received from the food bank and what she could afford from the grocery store, to keep her family well-nourished.
Now, 20 years later, Ann is running a Community Kitchen herself, helping others learn as she did. Once a month, for two days of the week, she opens the doors of the newly renovated kitchen at Dryden Free Methodist Church to the community. She teaches life skills to others in order that those who participate can be blessed in the same way she was years ago.
Ann opens the program up to anyone who is interested in taking part; however, it is geared to people with a fixed income. The participants meet on the first day to plan out their meals. They take time to plan, pick out recipes, go through flyers, and compare prices to see where they might find the best deals. They discuss the different kinds of food and what they’re eating. They can go grocery shopping, if they choose, with Ann or another volunteer at the Community Kitchen. On the second day, everyone is required to cook together with the ingredients that have been purchased or acquired from the Food Bank, and enjoy lunch together. At the end of the program, they will have made five meals – the first being the lunch they eat together while they’re cooking, and four casserole dishes to take home.
Much of the training Ann does at the Community Kitchen is not just cooking, but also using unique ingredients from the Food Bank. The Food Bank often has “leftover” ingredients, such as beans, lentils, brown rice, among other items. Ann will use these ingredients in the meals to both challenge the tastes of the participants and to open them up to more options with the available food items.
To Ann, it’s about much more than the practical help that they receive. When she attended that Community Kitchen so many years ago, the practical piece was extremely important to her, but she also saw the potential for people getting to know each other. When Ann first thought about starting the Community Kitchen at Dryden Free Methodist Church, that was the element that was most important to her. She knew the struggles that many people experienced, not just from hunger, but loneliness. She knew that it would be important for people to experience the love of Jesus through this outreach.
After much prayer, in her scripture reading Ann came upon Matthew 15:29-38, where Jesus feeds the four thousand:
Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat… (Matthew 15:32)
“This is the focus verse for me,” Ann says, “Jesus wanted people to hear what he had to teach them and he had compassion for their hunger.”
Ann also has a natural joy and love for cooking. Ann says, “For me, it’s a creative thing. I find it really rewarding to create a dish and have everybody sit down and love it. I really love to take new recipes and new ingredients and figure out how to use them.” She says it also satisfies her God-given desire to teach. She has taken part in other opportunities for teaching at the church as well, including Bible camp and child evangelism.
Ann brings that joy and passion into the community kitchen. She loves what she does and wants others to experience that joy with her. Joy in doing what she loves and serving Christ and others with it is an ingredient that costs nothing, but makes her ministry fruitful. Although only a few months in operation, there is already a waiting list and Ann is excited about the opportunities ahead.
If you are interested in starting a Community Kitchen in your area, Ann gives some basic guidelines:
- Start small. Even if your vision is big, build the ministry one step at a time. Ann hosts the Community Kitchen once a month, but has plans for more frequent meetings and spin-off groups.
- Work with other outreach programs in your area. Ann works closely with the Foodbank for maximum impact.
- Find helpers to carry out the program. One person in your set of volunteers will have to take the Food Handlers course. Ann is grateful for Lorraine Wikander, who helps carry out the program with her.
- Establish a location. Ann is fortunate to work out of the church kitchen. Her plan for the Community Kitchen was approved just in time for the church to start renovations on their kitchen and included elements that she required.
- Make up a budget. Again, start small and work with the Foodbank in your area. Recruit financial support from your church.
- Figure out your target group. This will help you determine the make-up of the program, from when and where you meet to what dishes you will prepare.
- Advertise and make connections wherever you go. Ann leaves business card-sized information with cashiers at the grocery store and puts up ads in Facebook and at schools. At first you will need to exhaust your resources, but then you will find that word-of-mouth spreads quickly enough. Right now, Ann has a waiting list and no longer has a need to advertise.
Ann is more than willing to be a resource to you should you wish to start a Community Kitchen in your area. She also would refer you to Nanaimo’s Community Kitchens Society for excellent free-to-print resources.