Proof in the Pudding

By Nadine Jones

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In 2004, the Family Services of Greater Vancouver hired Minoo Javadi, who has a professional background of culinary and organizational abilities, to outreach and set up six multicultural Community Kitchens in Richmond, where recent immigrants could meet and socialize while they shared recipes. Minoo, originally from Persia, vividly remembered the isolation she felt when she arrived in Canada in l990, so she was able to identify with and understand the problems of women new to the country.

As the idea caught on, other Community Kitchens were formed to meet specific needs. A few of them include kitchens for single moms, foster parents and seniors.

Minoo, who is now the co-ordinator of all the kitchens, (which became popular first in Peru when a group of very poor mothers agreed that if they shared the cost of food and cooked it communally, it would benefit their children with more and healthier food) says there are many reasons people enjoy the program. Over the years, there has been an increase in attendance of between 50 to 70 per cent.

The main goals of the multicultural kitchens are: to decrease isolation experienced by multicultural families; connect families to community resources; provide families with easy solutions to eating healthier food; create a relaxed and social environment where parents can meet and learn while their children are cared for by qualified volunteers; and encourage ESL participants to speak English in a more informal setting.

One lady who attends the multicultural kitchens exclaims, “Everyone stays together, shares, laughs, good food, everything!”

The programs are free, but each member contributes between $3 and $5 toward the cost of the food.

The kitchens are enjoyed at least twice a month. A visit to the bi-monthly session at the Seniors Community Kitchen at the South Arm Community Centre located at 8880 Williams Road in Richmond sheds light on how the kitchens function; this Kitchen was organized jointly by the Family Services of Greater Vancouver and the South Arm Community Centre.

On this day, the menu has a Punjabi flavour in recognition of Vaisakhi - the annual Punjabi festival.

Every Kitchen has its own specialized leaders and South Arm is no exception, it has two amiable ladies in charge - Organizer Charlene Dy and Co-ordinator Stella Au, who introduced a few of the group of four men and four women in attendance today.

“A perfect number of attendants is between six and eight,” says Stella.

As the seniors washed, cut, fried, shredded, peeled and otherwise prepared the ingredients for the meal, they chatted. Some have been with the group since its inception but one gentleman, Colin McMillan, 77, was here for the first time.

Colin lost his wife of many years last New Year's Eve and was told about the Seniors Kitchen by a grief counsellor. “He thought I would benefit by joining this seniors group, and it appealed to me because I knew my wife would be happy if I tried to learn how to cook healthy food for myself and not live on frozen dinners,” he says.

Returning to his position between two regulars at the immaculate white countertop work area, Colin is shown how to wash and prepare beans for one of the dishes.

An 88-year-old Japanese Canadian Frank Masuhara couldn't wait to talk about the benefits he has enjoyed at the kitchen after undergoing quadruple bypass surgery.

“After my operation six months ago, I could barely see or hear or walk, but I went to therapy and then, after a little while, I attended a Wellness Clinic and it was there that they suggested I join this group to learn how to cook healthy food without using oil or sodium on my restricted diet,” says Frank. “And I am doing that.”

A vivacious 64-year-old grandmother, Lorna Shum couldn't say enough good things about the group.

“One of my daughters was working at the Caring Place (a Richmond facility housing the head offices of many non-profit organizations), where she learned about the Seniors Community Kitchen, and she asked me if I might be interested in joining,” says Lorna. “I did join and I have never regretted it! It isn't only learning how to cook or to share favourite recipes with other people - there is far more than that! We go on field trips and invite interesting speakers sometimes, and I have learned so much. I recommend to all people they should join!”

And where would we be without volunteers? June Wasnick, 68, has been a volunteer with the program at South Arm since the first session. “I love the levels of benefits I see when I watch newcomers as they integrate and learn,” says June. With a Master's Degree in Theology and Counselling, June is a more than capable volunteer.

At the end of each session, participants offer feedback. In Minoo's last program review 100 per cent of the participants said they are more comfortable speaking English; 90 per cent found new friends; and 100 per cent used the recipes learned in the program and have benefited from the nutritional information hand-outs.

If proof of the pudding is in the eating, then prepare your palate for a new experience at a Community Kitchen – the pudding might have an international flavour.

For more information, call 604-279-7100 in Richmond or 604-718-8070 at South Arm Community Centre.



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