This month’s spotlight features a volunteer who came aptly qualified for our Cooking Matters program, which is a partnership between Central City Concern and the Oregon Food Bank that teaches clients the skills and knowledge required for healthy cooking and eating habits. Having previously volunteered with a different Cooking Matters session and given her experience in the health care industry, she couldn’t have been a better fit to volunteer with the program! Linda Nguyen, who supervised Nickie in the program, said about her work, “The Cooking Matters team at Old Town Clinic was honored to have Nickie share her time and knowledge with our program. Nickie’s kind, calm, and compassionate spirit helped create a friendly environment where our clients felt safe and supported throughout the 6-weeks program.”
Read on to see why Nickie has continued to volunteer with the Cooking Matters program, and what was so special about the classes at CCC.
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Peter: What is your name and volunteer position?
Nickie: My name is Nickie Dane and I am the Cooking Matters lead assistant.
P: And you had done the Cooking Matters program before coming to CCC, right?
N: Yes, I was a grocery store tour coordinator [with a Cooking Matters program] in North Carolina. People would be referred to this day of tours through the health department or WIC [the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children], and we’d put on like six in one day, so people would come in and go through the grocery store and get a “10 dollar challenge” where they got to practice buying things from the different food groups.
P: And how is this class different than the one you had done before?
N: It’s different in that it’s over a six-week period, while those other ones it was just an afternoon, so they come in and get an hour or two hour tour and that was it. With this there would be follow up and participants would come in and talk about the recipes and what they’d done at home that was a little healthier. It was exciting seeing people make the commitment and keep coming. There were a good eleven people who did the whole class. I just enjoyed people being excited about cooking and health.
"It was exciting seeing people make the commitment and keep coming.... I just enjoyed people being excited about cooking and health."
-Nickie, CCC Volunteer
P: What is it about Cooking Matters that is meaningful for you and kept you coming back to it?
N: I work in the health care industry and seeing the lack of information given to people by traditional primary care providers about what people can do to improve their health as far lifestyle and food choice goes has been a big driver. I think that prevention needs a little more attention and if they haven't gotten it from their doctor then they can get it from other sources, like Cooking Matters.
P: What were the common questions or misconceptions that folks had?
N: So, some of the things that come up are like, “Why do we have to look at saturated fat?” So, we’ll have a conversation about heart disease and they’ll go, “Oh well, I have some heart problems,” or high blood pressure and that will lead us down the conversation of sodium intake and reading food labels. And they never knew they should look at that part of the food label and they didn’t know that sodium affected their blood pressure significantly. Because their doctor might have said, “Oh, try to cut back on salt,” but they didn’t really understand why or get into a conversation any deeper than that.
P: I think we do hear that a lot, just sort of, “You should eat better.”
N: Yeah, just really generic instructions and there’s not a how you should do that, or why you should do that.
P: Is that something that is part of the Cooking Matters program, more than just “you should,” but this is how this affects your body?
N: Yes! And not just that, but understanding how a recipe works and if you don’t have a recipe, how to take the foods you’re getting at the food pantry or what you’re able to purchase at a low price and how to make that into something healthy and also looking at things like leaving the peels on fruits and vegetables, because that gives you more fiber. And fiber is better for you because it helps prevent cancer and lowers you cholesterol, so these are things we all talk about in the class over the six weeks. Lots of questions, lots of “Oh, I didn’t know that!”
P: Were there any common reasons that folks weren’t always able to access healthy food?
N: I think one of the barriers living in this area is access to healthy food, so purposefully going out of your way to go to the bigger grocery stores to buy fresh produce. That is a big barrier, because it’s easy to just go down to that little convenience store that’s right there.
P: I think that’s something we can all relate to, if it’s hard to fit that time in to your week or you don’t have a car or reliable transit, just valuing food enough to make that time to make that trip and that effort.
N: Yes. And seeing that it’s not a huge hurdle. It can be a hurdle, but we took the bus to Fred Meyer so they got to see that it just took a few minutes.
Another thing that would come up is the kitchens that they have available to them. They would say, “Oh, I don’t have this, I don’t have an oven, I only have a microwave or a hotplate.” So we’d talk about different ways to get around that so you could still have the healthy food and the good options and kind of overcoming not having measuring cups, little things that we take for granted.
P: Were there any stand out moments from the class?
N: I loved the last day when everyone got to come together and talk about what they learned and the recipes that they liked and just got to hang out. I think a bunch of people stayed later and we all took pictures and everyone got a little award and an apron and they just talked about how much they loved it and how they want to take more classes.
The last day we also played food jeopardy. Alison [the lead chef for Cooking Matters] set up this Jeopardy board and prizes, like mixing spoons and things like that they could use, and everyone did so well remembering things like what temperature you need to cook chicken to and what’s the biggest way you can prevent disease or foodborne illness, which was “wash your hands,” which everyone knew.
I got to know some people and the hard things they’ve gone through and what they’ve overcome. And now that they’re getting back in to a stable lifestyle this is something where they can meet people and learn a new skill and take their health into their own hands. I think having something to stick with and to get out and meet people and interact with them was really good for several participants. There was a couple in there too and they used it as their date night. And one of them didn’t like vegetables at all, or only certain vegetables, so it kind of pushed him outside of his comfort zone. And that was cool to see.
P: And what was important about this experience for you?
N: Seeing how resilient people are. It was so neat to get to know people over these six weeks and hearing what they’re going through with their health and illness, rough backgrounds, and the social isolation and they’re just putting themselves out there and working to get better. When I work as a paramedic, I talk to someone for about 15 to 30 minutes, and that’s about it, and I leave them at the hospital, so I don’t really get beyond, “What are you feeling right now?” Working with this population, which I don’t get to do very often, it kind of pushed me beyond my comfort zone in effective communications and how to talk about things that are hard without being biased or offending anyone.
P: And what keeps you coming back to volunteer?
N: It feels so good, people thank you, and hopefully I’ll get to see people on the street now walking around in this area and say hi and catch up and make connections.
P: It’s a great reminder that we’re all in this space together and you can make a connection like that.
"It’s nice to just break it down and just understand that while they have a completely different life from what I have, they are valuable, they are human, and want interactions. We’re all people in this community."
N: Just even walking over here, I try to smile at people on the street when I’m walking by and maybe they don’t get attention or noticed or whatever, so just smiling and saying hi and just watching them be like, “Oh, Hi!” It’s nice to just break it down and just understand that while they have a completely different life from what I have, they are valuable, they are human, and want interactions. We’re all people in this community.
P: And for our traditional last questions, if you met someone who was on the fence about volunteering with CCC, other than that wonderful pitch you just gave to me, what would you tell them?
N: Oh, I mean, even if you just do a little bit I think that seeing other ways of life or confronting things that you have a bias toward or against, it just makes you feel more connected to humanity. It makes you feel more human. And more empathetic. That’s a big, big part of why I’m doing this. It’s so important to interact with people that you don’t normally and do something for another person.
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If reading about Nickie and Cooking Matters inspires you to make a donation of items, we are in need of kitchen supplies to help keep the class going at
Central City Concern. Our Cooking Matter Amazon Wish List makes it easy for you donate, or you can contact our Donor Relations Manager, Catharine Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have quality used materials from the list that you would like to donate.
And if you are interested in learning more about volunteer positions in at Central City Concern’s health and recovery, housing,
or employment programs, contact Peter Russell, CCC’s
Volunteer Manager, at email@example.com or visit our