The smell of healthy, home-cooked food wafts through Sharing House in Brevard. As meat simmers in the pot, the students taking Sharing House’s newest cooking class slowly add fresh produce, taking care not to boil away the nutrients.
“I was just trying to think of ways to help people eat better — eat more nutritiously,” says Marion Latham, the pantry manager at Sharing House, a Christian ministry. “I think clients get excited about cooking. It gets them interested. A lot of them have families and children, and we’re glad that [healthy eating] is going to get passed down.”
The 33-year-old, faith-based organization takes the phrase “Love thy neighbor as thyself” to heart. Since Jan. 1, it’s already helped more than 660 households.
“We serve the residents of Transylvania County who struggle to make ends meet,” Director Shelly Webb explains. “They just walk in and present a need — for food or clothing or a utility, like if they have a cut-off bill.”
Now, however, Sharing House is serving its neighbors (the preferred term for clients) in a new way.
“The Crock-Pot class is a great example of what a community can do in partnership,” says Webb. “We had the idea based on a need we saw. We would give out food, like fresh produce, but sometimes people don’t know what they can do with their food.
“We live in a world now that relies on microwaves. Using a Crock-Pot is so easy: You can go to work, come back and have a great meal for your family.”
A $3,000 grant from the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd funded the three classes developed to date and covered the cost of the slow cookers and cookbooks all participants receive. Guided by a nutrition educator from the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, Transylvania County residents in need learn to cook low-cost, healthy meals. And given the classes’ popularity, Sharing House hopes to be able to continue offering them.
“We had our first workshop in December, our second in January, and we’re doing our third in March,” notes Latham. Each class teaches two meals — one vegetarian and one using an inexpensive cut of meat — that participants can either eat there or take home to their families.
Karen Robinson attended the January session, where they learned to make a meatless spaghetti sauce and cream of mushroom soup over chicken and pasta. “I really enjoyed the class,” she says. “I had taken several healthy eating classes [with Sharing House] because my daughter is diabetic, but it’s just so hard to come in and try to cook a good, balanced meal and help with homework too.
“But if you cook in a slow cooker and you use a good piece of meat, you’ve got enough for dinner and leftovers for the next two or three days,” notes Robinson. “It’s really good for people on a fixed income or food stamps that don’t have enough for the whole month. Their kids will be eating healthier — not so much fast food — and the food tastes much better.
“I just hope that Sharing House keeps the class up until they reach as many clients as they possibly can,” she continues.
Enrollment is limited to 10 or 12 per session, and the idea quickly proved so popular, says Latham, that Sharing House began letting only three people sign up per day, to give more folks a chance to take a class.
“We’re trying to find innovative ways to meet people’s needs and to empower them,” Webb reveals. A slow cooker, she notes, “takes a lot less energy, and you can save a lot of money and open up a door to meals that they didn’t know they could create. And coming together as a group of neighbors, they can swap recipes. It’s a shared experience.
“It’s a great example of community. When you hand somebody a Crock-Pot, you hand them a door to a future of healthy meals for their family.”
Classes are exclusively for Sharing House clients. The next one will be offered Friday, March 21. To learn more, visit sharinghouse.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.