Throughout Massachusetts, Cooking Matters volunteers are sharing their skills and passion with Cooking Matters participants, but this month we wanted to spotlight our Western Mass volunteers who figuratively – and literally!- go the extra mile.
Moving into our busy fall season, we rely upon our incredible volunteers more than ever, especially in Western Mass. Since 2010, over 600 people have volunteered in our six-week cooking courses across the state. In Western Mass, our volunteers are particularly dedicated, as many of them are trained on individual ad hoc phone calls, sometimes drive across the state to their classes, and often work as the sole volunteer alongside the staff coordinator.
We asked six volunteer from Western Mass – Margot, Sheri, Alison, Johnathan, Hannah, and Samantha - to share their stories.
Q: How did you become involved with Cooking Matters?
Alison: I had been looking for a new way to get involved in the community that was outside of my current work involvement/circle, but using my skills. I'm a teacher, I like to cook, when I saw the listing online it seemed like it would be fun and a good match for me.
Johnathan: I first learned about program while in undergrad Nutrition at UMass and wanted to gain experience to pursue a career in community nutrition. I saw the program as an opportunity to mesh my expense as a cook in the Navy Submarine Force and my degree in nutrition.
Hannah: My senior year, I had the opportunity to become a Cooking Matters Youth Ambassador and work with the local Cornell Cooperative Extension to lead grocery store tours.
Q: Why did you want to volunteer?
Samantha: I became involved with Cooking Matters because I absolutely love the concept of providing families with the skills they need to provide nutritious and budget friendly meals at home.
Sheri: When I first heard about CM I knew I wanted to contribute to their mission. I absolutely believe that families and children benefit heath-wise and financially when they are savvy grocery shoppers and prepare for themselves at least half their meals and snacks.
Margot: I believe access to good, healthy food is a basic human right. Helping folks decipher food labels, teaching them knife safety while preparing a healthy meal are essential skills to reach this goal.
Hannah: I really enjoy interacting and learning from the participants. Cooking Matters has such a great mission and devoted staff. It’s nice to be volunteering with an organization that I truly believe makes a great difference in communities across the country.
Q: What is your favorite thing about volunteering?
Margot: Every class is filled with laughter which opens up the conversations and people start sharing their stories. It is a highly collaborative effort with both instructors and participants leading and learning from each other. I have learned a lot teaching these courses.
Alison: Most memorable moment: a class full of teenage girls, who all started off kind of suspicious of this 'healthy' thing, with their phones out, eagerly taking pictures of yogurt parfaits so they could show everyone on Facebook and Instagram.
Johnathan: Learning about cultural influences in food and how they use ingredients that I didn’t even know were available, in ways I would have never thought of. I remember one participant mentioned her favorite food was boiled octopus.
Samantha: I love the look on the participants' faces the moment they realize it isn't as hard as they thought and that they are capable of recreating a tasty meal at home. (That being said, the Cooking Matters recipes are delicious). I also love the excitement participants have when they come in the following week for class and share their experience with trying the recipe at home.
Q: What are your other interests?
Sheri: I'm an avid reader, creative quilter and spirited Red Sox fan.
Alison: I bought a house a year ago, so I'm spending plenty of time painting, sanding etc. and trying to keep a groundhog out of my new garden. I read stacks of library books, hike, and am working my way through a summer bucket list.
Hannah: I play ping pong a lot and was once the captain of my college ping pong team. I also love to paint and draw and minored in art during my undergraduate degree. I end up painting food a lot and think that it would be really great if I could, someday, tie together my interests in art and nutrition.
Samantha: Outside of work I am passionate about running and I’m an avid hiker. I’ve hiked almost all 48 of the 4,000 foot summits in the White Mountains.
Margot – Received her B.S. in Nutrition from UVM and began as a tour leader with the Food Bank of Western Mass
Sheri – A Registered Dietitian who works with clients to come to peace with their relationship to food
Alison – Teaches math and social studies for students getting their HiSET (formerly known as GED)
Johnathan– Spent four years as a cook on a submarine with the US Navy and received his B.A. in Nutrition from UMass Amherst
Hannah – Formerly Cooking Matters Youth Ambassador with Cornell Cooperative Extension and will be starting her Masters in Nutrition this fall
Samantha – A Registered Dietitian who works for BayState Pediatric’s Weight Management program