NACOGDOCHES, Texas — A partnership between Stephen F. Austin State University’s School of Human Sciences and the East Texas Food Bank in Tyler aims to curb high levels of food insecurity in East Texas through a six-week Cooking Matters program.
This is the fifth year the school has partnered with the food bank to provide the informative and interactive program to the community. Justin Pelham, food, nutrition and dietetics clinical instructor at SFA, is using this program as a class project for students in his community nutrition course to showcase their skills in a real-world setting. This will be Pelham’s fourth year to lead the program.
“My goal is to provide real-world experience in the Nacogdoches community by allowing our students to demonstrate their nutrition knowledge with interactive education and cooking demonstrations,” Pelham said. “Community opportunities enhance the student learning experience when working with our underserved populations locally, making a significant impact in the students’ lives well past their undergraduate experience at SFA.”
The East Texas Food Bank is a nonprofit organization that distributes food to more than 200 partner agencies in an effort to feed children, the working poor and senior citizens throughout 26 counties in East Texas. According to food bank studies, one in four children and one in five adults experience food insecurity in East Texas.
Kinsey Jeffers, food bank nutrition education programs manager, and Brandi Gouldthorpe, SFA alumna and nutrition education specialist, visited Pelham’s community nutrition students recently to outline the food bank's mission and services.
“Cooking Matters is one of our main direct education programs,” Jeffers said. “We offer 15 to 20 six-week courses every year. There are nutrition education components, kitchen and food safety components, grocery store tours and hands-on food preparation. Then we all sit down and eat the meal together.”
Pelham’s students will serve in all Cooking Matters roles, from program recruitment officer to chef and instructor.
“The student-led program provides interactive experiences for all sides,” Pelham said. “Students will be showcasing their leadership abilities among our underserved community and practice their communication skills in written and oral formats with the public. The East Texas Food Bank appreciates the partnership because we are reaching more people in their region who could benefit from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
“The community, too, benefits from the Cooking Matters program because they learn different nutrition education topics that correspond with the practical cooking skills gained through the lesson. Also, each participant receives a bag of groceries with the items prepared that day to cook the same dish at home,” Pelham added.
Another class location has been added to this year’s Cooking Matters partnership, allowing organizers to double program participation. While Pelham’s students lead the course on campus, a second class will occur simultaneously at the Helping Other People Eat Pantry in Nacogdoches. Additionally, SFA’s new mobile food lab, the Lumberjack Express, will be driven to the HOPE Pantry for the class’ graduation event and potluck.
Cooking Matters classes will begin Oct. 7 and continue each Monday through Nov. 11.
For more information about East Texas Food Bank services, visit easttexasfoodbank.org.