During much of 2013 I had the incredible fortune of being invited to teach healthy and economical cooking to students at the UMMA Center (Urban Muslim Minority Alliance) located in Waukegan, IL. Earlier in the year I spoke with Arshia Ali-Khan, Director, Business Development & Marketing at UMMA Center, about sponsoring one of their fundraisers. She told me more about the things that UMMA Center was doing to help those in need in the local community, regardless of religious affiliation. For example, in addition to offering a free computer room, clothing, and GED classes (among many other classes), one thing that really struck me was that they’re the only food pantry in Illinois to offer halal meat (in the form of Crescent Foods chicken), which I think is a really big deal.
I immediately wanted to get involved somehow- to help and offer some of my services the best I could at the time. One idea we had was to offer cooking classes that would provide solutions for shopping and eating healthy while on a very tight budget. I began the classes in March and we’ve had an amazing array of topics within that spectrum, all the way through December of last year.
We started by talking about how to cook inexpensive cuts of meat, how to use a crock pot and other slow-cook methods. We looked at magazines for ideas and inspiration and talked about ways to bring down the expense of cooking what seems to be “gourmet” meals so that anyone can make them, no matter the budget and even if that means having to use some key ingredients provided by a food pantry, which is the case for many who attended the classes at UMMA.
For the remainder of the year we discussed simple, no-bake, no-cook recipes, too (we didn’t have a stove top or oven to work with but tried to make do with a single burner when we had to). One of the most exciting things we did all year was to have a class outside at a local community garden.
Nada Finn of GreenTOWN Waukegan who organized the garden for anyone to come and pick the fresh, organic produce, offered up the space to have our class. She gave us a tour of the garden and everything growing in various stages- eggplant, tomatoes, lettuce varieties. We picked some things from the garden and I brought it ingredients to make a homemade salad dressing plus a little feta cheese, strawberries and grapes. I demonstrated how easy it was to make the dressing and even the kids in the audience could not get enough of this. With their help in picking the veggies plus cleaning and prepping the ingredients, it was a perfect way to get the kids to try it out, and they amazed me at how much they truly loved this salad, and were excited about being in the garden!
This was an amazing year and I met so many wonderful, repeat students. They were dedicated and loyal to learning new ways to eat healthy and they taught me so much more about new ways to cook and stretch the dollar than I ever imagined I would learn in a year.
I hope to be able to continue on this year and provide more classes with even more resources for these eager students of cooking. UMMA Center is a non-profit organization and depends on the generosity and support of donations from people like you and anyone interested in giving back to organizations that truly do make a difference in people’s lives. I hope you’l consider giving a donation to the UMMA Center. You can do so by going here.
Thank you in advance- I’d love your feedback on this initiative in the comments section below.