Social change work is hard and frustrating and wonderful and terrible; it is also, at times, funny, quirky and just plain fascinating. With this blog we hope to capture all that goes into what we do at Capital Good Fund, and we invite you to join the conversation!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Cooking Classes: The Where, the Why & the How

Community Cooking Class Instructor Dihara Quinones Showing Families How to Make Healthy Meals!

What it Is
A few days ago we started offering three Community Cooking classes to low-income Providence families.  The classes are being funded and hosted by Whole Foods Market on Waterman St. in Providence and the curriculum is one designed by the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. The 30 participating families will attend eight (8) weekly classes during which they will partake in a cooking demonstration, learn healthy eating concepts, and receive a free bag of groceries (donated by Whole Foods) with which they can perfect healthy recipes at home.  Part of the power of the classes is that, by including the entire family in a fun environment, the kids are more likely to be willing to eat healthy foods and, in turn, the parents are more likely to make them!

Why We're Doing It
Now, why is Capital Good Fund, a non-profit that uses financial services to tackle poverty, delivering cooking classes to the community?  Good question!  First, I've always viewed financial services as a tool toward the end of empowering families to move out of poverty.  And as far as tools go, financial services--small loans, financial coaching, free tax preparation, access to banking services--can be quite transformational, but they aren't enough.  Second, after four years I've come to see that the concept of 'financial services' is broader than how we normally envision it.  For instance, if over 60% of bankruptcies are due to medical debt, and if medical debt is often incurred as a result of a lack of health insurance and access to primary care and healthy foods, then is not health a financial issue?  It is for this reason that we recently added a Health module to our financial coaching curriculum.  And lastly, once we broaden the set of tools we use to achieve our mission to include health, the idea of healthy cooking classes starts to come into focus.  This is because a lot of research has found that one of most effective way to improve educational outcomes, mood, job productivity and a whole host of other key things is to eat better.  Further, eating better is a function of a) knowing how, b) understanding how to do so on a budget and c) making it fun so that the entire family actually eats better.

Next Steps
Seen in this light, the cooking classes make a lot of sense.  In order to maximize the impact of our health module, the classes reinforce what we talk about with clients during one-on-one Coaching sessions.  Also, there is a reason why group support--such as Alcoholics Anonymous--is the most effective way of empowering people to meet their goals.  What we hope to see if is the cooking classes create a sense of community among clients. We are also using the classes to pilot the health module with all participants so that we can make improvements to it.

To be clear, it's possible that we won't continue offering the classes after the summer.  But even then, we will have built a partnership with a fantastic and ethical company, Whole Foods, changed 30 lives and piloted the health module.  And if the impacts we expect are born out--and a sense of community between clients is built--then we'll look into offering the classes to all of our clients!

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