Program builds connections through cooking

Thanks to a grant from the Community Literacy Celebration, combined with other funds, a new math enrichment program was started at the Nike Homeless Shelter.

The program used simple cooking techniques to apply and reinforce the basic math concepts of weights, measures and fractions.

“Whenever people of different cultures get together, food is the common language,” Katie Giesy, the service center’s literacy supervisor, said. “Everyone can relate to food and it’s to our advantage to do as well as possible in preparing food. That’s why I think this program was so successful with our clients.”

Meal planning and an introduction to concepts of good nutrition were worked into the eight-week program, using foods typically available in the area’s food banks.

Some of these foods may have been unfamiliar to the children or their families, many of whom were from different cultures.

Overall, 65 children and 25 adult family members sat in on all or part of the program.

“Although the program was primarily geared towards kids, there were a substantial number of adult family members who sat in as well,” said Stephanie Boschee, program director of the literacy department of the Federal Way Multi-Service Center. “It was a chance to help them learn things they may not have known before in a way that was useful in their day to day existence.”

Although about 60 percent of the participants were brought up in this country’s system of weights and measures — as well as the common kinds of foods available — the other 40 percent weren’t.

This second group had recently arrived from a variety of locations in Asia, the Pacific Islands, Central and South America, Africa and East India.

“It was quite wonderful to see the children and parents from all the different cultures interact together,” Boschee said. “Although they may have come from different places, what they had in common was that this culture was new to them, and they could share with each other how they are adopting to this culture.”

One of the other challenges in any sort of educational program in the homeless shelter is that the age range of the children is also quite varied.

“We had children from 5 (years old) through 12 in this program, and it’s necessary to present information in a way to keep everyone’s attention,” Giesy said. “Flexibility and keeping the lessons both basic and entertaining were the keys to success.”

One of the most successful lessons had to do with the food pyramid, according to Giesy. Although adults don’t seem receptive to nutritional information, kids are, and enjoy learning examples of foods that they need lots of and others that they shouldn’t eat much of, she said.

“One of the values of the Community Literacy monies was as leverage to obtain other grant monies to put on this program,” Nancy Hohenstein, the center’s director of community relations, said. “Other organizations like to be associated with programs that already have basic support. We were able to provide additional fun elements, such as an afternoon with the Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Truck and Handy & Bandy’s Puppet Theatre, by leveraging the literacy grant.”

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