Celia Zhou, graduate of Enloe High School, will attend Wake Forest University as a Stamps Scholar this fall. She is a founding member of The Food Ark, a student-led organization that works to relieve food insecurity; a member of Capital Area Food Network’s Food Access and Security group; and host of the Cultivate Conversation event sponsored by the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation.  

We’ll call her Sam.

I met Sam in my freshman choral ensemble class; we talked, sang together, and worked together.

The next time I interacted with Sam was 2 ½ years later when I volunteered for IFFS’s Cooking Matters Families class. With her mother and little brother she participated in the interactive program, learning how to buy and prepare nutritious foods. Her family was joined by 22 other students and family members.

InterFaith Food Shuttle's Food Ark at Elon High School. (Photo by Sara D. Davis for InterFaith Food Shuttle)
InterFaith Food Shuttle's Food Ark at Elon High School. (Photo by Sara D. Davis for InterFaith Food Shuttle)

On six Tuesday nights, classroom assistants stocked fresh produce from the pantry for the participants to take home. During class we assisted the students and their families, guiding them through recipes. By the end of the course, we had cooked dishes ranging from Cheese and Vegetable Frittatas to Peanut Butter-Rolled Oat Cookies, demonstrating that these recipes are nutritious, practical, and tasty!

I witnessed individuals gain valuable life skills and realized the power of group cohesiveness when multiple families joined together to work towards a common goal. Families who typically ate separately bonded over shared food. After the program concluded, Abbey Riesett, lead coordinator, shared testimonials showcasing healthy lifestyle changes—including Sam’s mother thanking IFFS for helping her family try new foods and more healthy meals.

Cooking Matters bridges the critical gap between awareness and action. Engaging, hands-on strategies entice students and families to WANT to change and promote their own well-being. The class instills a sense of confidence, and students become empowered to take control—when before, a majority had limited access to such choices of food and cooking styles. These types of impacts create sustainable and healthy behaviors.

As I continue my own journey to reduce hunger, through The Food Ark and higher education, I will keep in mind the importance of practicality, innovation, and interaction that Cooking Matters taught me.