PEI

Community cook days help hungry P.E.I. families feed themselves

Tammy MacKinnon is the kind of person who wants to help others by teaching them to help themselves — the Cornwall mother of four has been hosting very popular neighbourhood cook days in the Central Christian Church in Charlottetown for the past couple of years.

'I wanted a way for people to feel good about themselves and feel inspired and motivated to do better'

Community cook days teach participants how to make easy and inexpensive meals. (Neighbourhood Cook Day - PEI/Facebook )

Tammy MacKinnon wants to help others learn help themselves — the Cornwall mother of four has been hosting very popular neighbourhood cook days in the Central Christian Church in Charlottetown for the past couple of years. 

Between 15 and 30 families participate in the monthly sessions, during which together they assemble four healthy slow-cooker meals and get to take them home, for a cost of $5 per family. Anyone can participate, no questions asked.

What I would really love is to see other communities feel that this was important and to do this in their own community.— Tammy MacKinnon

"It's anyone who feels like they might be struggling a little bit to make ends meet as far as food goes," MacKinnon explained. 

Known as someone who can de depended on to help others, MacKinnon said a few years ago families in need began contacting her asking for groceries.

After several months of eating into her own family's food budget, MacKinnon knew something had to give. She decided on the "teach a person to fish and they'll never go hungry" approach.  

Slow cooker Saturdays

Along with a crew of volunteers, MacKinnon began hosting popular sessions once a month on Saturday mornings. Each family is given a slow cooker to keep, and are taught new recipes, nutrition and grocery shopping tips and more.

'I just want people to know their own value,' says Tammy MacKinnon, in the kitchen at Central United Church in Charlottetown.

"It's gone way beyond making meals to a lot of families feeling like they're helping themselves, they have a lot more self-worth," said MacKinnon. 

"It's really about building friendships and supports so that they realize they're not the only ones going through this — there is a way that we can change it."

While not a nutritionist, MacKinnon had been a community coordinator at a local supermarket, helping to carry out workshops about shopping and eating a balanced, healthy diet on a budget. 

'Good learning opportunity'

The sessions see new participants each time as well as many returning families.

Some take-home baggies for potato, bacon and cheese bake were assembled at a recent cook day. (Neighbourhood Cook Day - PEI/Facebook)

"It's a good learning opportunity and lots of great food to take home with you," said Mickey Lee.

He and his fiancée have four young children, three of whom have been diagnosed with autism, he said, and it's a challenge feeding them healthy meals.

"With all the bills that we have, it's hard to make meals that are adequate. For $5 you go to cook day and you get four meals. Where else can you go for that?" he said. 

Lee has also been surprised at the tastiness and versatility of meat alternatives such as chick peas. And, he said, he enjoys meeting new people who have similar circumstances. 

Spreading the word

MacKinnon would now like to see a couple of things happen — she'd love more donations to the cook day from local producers, and she'd love to see leaders in other Island communities start their own cook days. 

Some ingredients prepped for cook day for the very popular egg roll casserole recipe. (Neighbourhood Cook Day - PEI/Facebook)

"What I would really love is to see other communities feel that this was important and to do this in their own community," she said, noting some participants travel monthly from Kensington, P.E.I., and Summerside, P.E.I., to take part in the Charlottetown cook day.

"I wouldn't even mind training people!" she said. 

While the Upper Room Food Bank does help fill in the gaps with grocery gift cards when MacKinnon hasn't been able to gather enough donations each month, she'd love more farmers to provide vegetables and meat.

'Inspired and motivated'

"I wanted a way for people to feel good about themselves and feel inspired and motivated to do better," said MacKinnon.

MacKinnon's next neighbourhood cook day will be next Saturday morning Oct. 29 from 9 a.m. to noon. You must pre-register by commenting on their Facebook page, Neighbourhood Cook Day- PEI.

Eggroll Stirfry

Here's a simple and popular recipe the cook day participants have made more than once:

  • 1 lbs. of ground beef, pork, or chicken (or no meat at all is okay, too)
  • 1 head of cabbage, green or purple or both
  • bok choy (optional)
  • 3-4 medium carrots
  • 1/4 onion, chopped finely
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 heaping tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 T oil 
  • 4-5 T low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper

Cut cabbage in thin slices. Shred carrots or cut into thin slices. Cook meat (if using) and add cabbage, carrots, onions and garlic. Add spices and soy sauce and stirfry together until veggies are a bit softened. Serves 4 to 5 people.

About the Author

Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a bachelor of journalism (honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email sara.fraser@cbc.ca

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