Imagine Red Deer seniors teaching teens to cook in a community kitchen — or people on limited incomes learning to stretch food budgets through preserving or canning produce.
These scenarios have long been envisioned by the Red Deer Food Bank staff and volunteers — and they are about to become a reality, said Mitch Thomson, the non-profit’s executive-director.
This spring a community kitchen will be constructed at the food bank through a partnership with the Red Deer East Rotary Club.
Thomson said some commercial-grade appliances have already been ordered for the 800-square-foot kitchen project. With a 16-foot island, meat-cutting table, charbroiler, deep fryer, freezer, baking cabinet and ovens, the kitchen should be completed by May.
The Red Deer Food Bank is contributing about a third of the $300,000 estimated total cost from savings that were set aside from donations since the mid-2000s, he added.
The Red Deer East Rotary Club has pledged to raise up to another $100,000 as a legacy project in the run-up to its 50th anniversary.
And the balance will hopefully be covered by a provincial grant that will be announced in June. “I hope the province comes on board,” said Thomson, who sees many advantages to this project.
Not only will cooking and canning workshops help more Red Deerians eat healthier and become more self-reliant, but it will also ensure that produce — whether in a meal or a canned jar — will be available year-round. and not just three weeks around harvest.
Hundreds of pounds of produce are anticipated to come into the food bank from private garden donations in late summer, as well as the large community garden being planned by ReThink Red Deer in Capstone.
Some of these vegetables will be canned by food bank volunteers to be given out in hampers, and some will be provided to clients who learn how to can or preserve produce through community kitchen demonstrations.
As a side-benefit, Thomson believes more connections will be made between community members over shared meal preparation — some seniors will become less isolated, and some young people will gain a friend and mentor.
The Red Deer East Rotary Club Community Kitchen will be located behind the administration offices of the Food Bank at Bay 10, 7429 – 49 Avenue. It will be equipped to break-down bulk food for distribution in the hamper program, offer educational opportunities for adults and youth, and eventually, provide catering and food preparation services.
Members of the Red Deer East Rotary Club are thrilled to work towards this as a legacy that will benefit the community for years to come, said past president Liz Audenart, the project’s lead.
“A lot of people don’t cook anymore — to have that skill come back would be amazing,” Audenart explained.
“With inflation, food preservation is top of mind,” added Donna Durham, a legacy committee member with the club.
The Red Deer East Rotary Club is planning upcoming fundraisers, including a Taco (Cinco) de Mayo event. For more information, please check the club’s Facebook page.