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Program works to teach cooking, food budget skills

By Meredith Shamburger
March 1, 2017 at midnight

Caetlin Rains, left, adds garlic powder to her toast as Leighton Patrick, Bruce Bennett and other "5 Loaves and 2 Fish" cooking class members prepare a chicken spaghetti dish Thursday, January 26, 2017, at Northwood Baptist Church. (Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo)

Before the stovetops were switched on and the supplies were brought out, Kay Hughes gave each of her culinary students something to cover their hair and a pair of gloves.

Then she told them how to prevent catastrophe.

"Always keep your pots and pan handles inward," she said. "If your hand comes down, you could flip the pot over."

The lesson was part of a monthly cooking class Hughes teaches at Northwood Church in Longview. "5 Loaves and 2 Fish" aims to provide lessons on how to cook food from scratch — so that participants can stretch their budget with family-friendly and freezer-friendly meals.

It was a program Hughes originally started after volunteering at the D.O.R.S. Youth Transition Center. Hughes said she noticed many of the young people there had needs. One participant, Jason Maurer, was always asking for leftovers.

"We feed them at our Tuesday meeting, and he would always ask for some of the leftovers because he didn't have any food," Hughes said. "I started noticing that he didn't have food a lot, and then I started noticing it was towards the end of the month."

Maurer told Hughes he had to stretch a $97 food budget, but he was buying a lot of pre-cooked, frozen foods because he didn't know how to cook. So Hughes and Maurer sat down, talked about what kinds of foods he liked and figured out a shopping list.

Hughes wrote out easy-to-follow recipes she hoped would make the cooking process easier for Maurer. They took a trip to the grocery store to buy supplies for several meals within Maurer's budget, and Hughes bought Maurer a casserole dish when she learned he didn't have one. Maurer was able to make meals that could feed six or seven people, she said.

"Two weeks after that, he called me like five times in three days," she said. "He was like 'Thank you so much. I have more than enough food to get through the month. It feels really good not to have to stress.'"

Maurer is still attending Hughes' cooking classes. He says without Hughes' help, he'd still be struggling to get by with his limited budget.

"Instead of buying things for the microwave, like frozen food, I can make dinners, bag them up into individual Ziploc bags and make them last for an entire month," he said. "Like a few months ago, I had 26 dinners in the fridge, and it went a long ways."

Hughes said cooking was something she learned from a young age.

"I've been in the kitchen since I was 3, and it wasn't just stirring," she said. "My grandmother had me doing homemade bread, I would be rolling it out, kneading it and all kinds of things. In my family, that's the way we did it: we cooked from scratch."

In addition to the 5 Loaves program, Hughes also has worked to give lessons on nutrition, shopping and coupons to D.O.R.S. youths.

Brenda Day-Bevis, executive director at the D.O.R.S. Youth Transition Center, said Hughes' program was just another way the center and its volunteers worked to help young people learn life skills.

"This is such a nice picture of how we link arms in Longview to serve our community," Day-Bevis said.

During her January cooking class, Hughes welcomed about 10 students and several volunteers. Four people were new. Donations of money, food and meeting space from community members, her church and ABC Auto Parts help keep the program going even as it expands.

Hughes works to set up group cooking stations for her students, giving them a standalone burner for a stovetop, as well as the tools and food supplies they'll need. She keeps having to up the number of cooking stations.

"We started out with one, then we grew," she said. "Then we had two, and we grew. Then we had three. One day, I'm hoping for a better situation. I'd love to have a kitchen, like a home-economics kind of kitchen."

In January, Hughes was busy getting her students ready to make chicken spaghetti. She likes to teach recipes that take 30 minutes or less and are easy to freeze for later.

"I would keep the lids on your pots and pans because these burners aren't as great as a real stove," she warned participants ahead of the class. "So in order to keep the heat well, you'll have to keep the lids on them. OK?"

Students were given individual assignments, such as chopping onions or making the sauce. Volunteers carried pots, pans and trash to and from the church's small kitchen so that students could focus on the cooking. Everyone gathered afterward to enjoy the meal they had made.

Maurer said he always learns a lot.

"She gives us the recipe and she shows us how to cook it, and it's really easy," he said.

Hughes said she wants her class to be open to everyone. She wants to be able to offer extra food for those people who might be really in need, but she said the skills she teaches are something she wants everyone to have.

"If you are having a hard time, and there's a way you can save money, then I want them to come," she said.

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