Having the ability and skills to prepare a meal is a blessing, even if it sometimes feels like a chore at the end of a long day. But for those who don’t know how to cook, a quick and healthy dinner may be out of reach. This was something the volunteers of Victor Harbor Lutheran Church’s food relief ministry, Loaves and Fishes, realised. Loaves and Fishes distributes surplus supermarket and bakery goods to those in need, with donations coming in through the organisation OzHarvest.
“We noticed that a lot of people collecting food from us were not taking the fresh vegetables – they would go for the pre-prepared things like bakery goods,” says Loaves and Fishes coordinator Merelyne Young.
“What we realised was that they didn’t know how to prepare the fresh food. We thought to ourselves, what if we run cooking lessons and teach them the skills they need?”
The idea was there, but a few hurdles remained in place. Who would run the classes, and where would they source the fresh produce for the lessons, without taking away from the donated goods for distribution? The team saw God’s provision on both fronts. The congregation was excited to receive a local government community grant of $1000, and approached professional chef Michael Duchow, who also works with students at Encounter Lutheran College, to see if he would be happy to run the classes. When Michael agreed to do so at no charge, the grateful congregation’s prayers were answered – they could now use the grant money to purchase supplies and ingredients.
Participants were quick to sign up to the six-week course and received general food education, as well as cooking skills that will last a lifetime.
“It was great to see the participants asking Michael the chef for his tips, on everything from what staples to have in the pantry to what herbs and spices to use with different ingredients,” says Merelyne. “We even had some who had cooked before and thought they didn’t need to come to all the classes who ended up staying for the whole lot, because of all the new and interesting information they were learning.”
Most participants had little to no cooking experience (one mentioned before classes started that he ‘could only microwave things’) but their progress over six weeks of willing learning was exceptional. Meals they whipped up included chicken soup, burgers, green chicken curry, sweet and savoury crepes and curry puffs.
As well as learning new life skills, Merelyne says the friendships formed have been wonderful to see.
“They’ve made quite a group of friends now and have come out of their shells – they were quite quiet at the beginning but by the end were very happy and chatting amongst each other. One lady has a husband who is very ill and she doesn’t get out much, so this was her day out and she absolutely loved it.”
Loaves and Fishes ministry operates out of the Victor Harbor Lutheran Church cafe on Thursday evenings and Friday mornings, serving those in the community who need assistance with food relief. Donations of goods are received through the OzHarvest organisation before being prepared and distributed by church volunteers. Available items include fresh fruit and vegetables, frozen food, bread and bakery items and some non-perishables. Emergency supplies including beanies, rugs and women’s toiletries are also stocked.
Photos above: Participants enjoyed their time learning from chef Michael Duchow (far left in group photo); a selection of fresh produce on offer at Loaves and Fishes. Photos courtesy Merelyne Young.