The Second Harvest warehouse in Spokane contains stacks of large crates filled with potatoes. Thanks to fertile farms in the area, the food bank never runs out of spuds — or apples, chickpeas or lentils.
"Those are beautiful Yukons out there," says Jandyl Doak, kitchen education coordinator at the food bank.
During a cooking class in January, Doak made two kinds of soup using Palouse staples — peas and chickpeas. After the demonstration, the small crowd of adults dispersed to cooking stations to replicate one of the recipes.
In what would be considered a triumph, fresh food accounts for half of Second Harvest's inventory each year, says community relations manager Julie Humphreys. But as food bank staff watched patrons turn down fresh options because of a lack of culinary know-how, they knew they had to do more than distribute food if they wanted it to change people's lives.
Second Harvest built a kitchen to offer classes, focusing on people who shop at food pantries. In December, the food bank unveiled a mobile kitchen that will bring cooking demonstrations and nutrition classes into underserved communities.
The classes emphasize meals that can be made quickly, using ingredients distributed by Second Harvest. They teach basic culinary skills, nutrition and food safety, helping people gain confidence and enjoy cooking. They're introduced to new foods, so that instead of seeing a squash or a lentil and not knowing how to eat it, perhaps they'll see ingredients that can be combined to make a wholesome meal in just 20 minutes.
At the end of the class in January, Doak's students said they planned to return in a week to make something new. They gathered around the table, sharing a meal of soup and salad.
"And I made some banana bread," Doak says, "because we have about 20 pallets of bananas here right now." ♦