Twenty-two local families can rest a little easier – or at least cook a little easier – thanks to three area Kiwanis clubs and the Legacy Fund for Seward County.
Families who participate in the Backpack Program were invited to attend a Healthy Food Fast and Slow class, hosted by Kiwanis and Nebraska Extension on Nov. 7.
As part of the class, participants received their choice of a new, free slow cooker or multicooker, a bag full of kitchen utensils and $100 in gift cards to local grocery stores.
The Backpack Program provides families with low incomes with a backpack full of food over the weekend when kids aren’t able to eat meals at school.
The Backpack Program has been sponsored by Seward County’s three Kiwanis clubs for many years, but this was the first time the clubs offered a cooking class.
The goal was to help families learn to prepare healthy meals with common ingredients and teach them how to safely use their chosen appliance.
Sheryl Piening Keller of the Milford Kiwanis Club said the idea came about through a discussion with Shane Baack of the Legacy Fund.
“Shane had given a presentation to the Milford Kiwanis Club. He mentioned that the Legacy Fund Board really wanted projects that benefited the community,” Piening Keller said.
She wrote a grant to the Legacy Fund, requesting $4,000 for the class to cover the cost of the small appliances. The Milford Kiwanis, Seward Noon Kiwanis and Seward Helping Hands Kiwanis each contributed $500 as well.
“I also received a call from a person in Seward who asked to donate $250 to the project from her Random Acts of Kindness group who wanted to support our efforts,” Piening Keller said. “This was an additional blessing.”
When they registered, participants selected which type of appliance they’d prefer and prioritized a list of utensils to aid in food prep – everything from knife sets and cutting boards to measuring spoons and mixing bowls.
Kiwanis members researched the safest models of slow and multicookers, searched for sales to stretch the grant dollars and ordered all the supplies.
The 90-minute class was offered at two different times, once in the morning and once in the evening to accommodate families’ schedules.
“In that amount of time, participants could actually prepare a recipe and sample the results,” Piening Keller said.
The class was taught by Nebraska Extension Educators Hannah Guenther from Cuming County and Thays Silva who serves Butler and Seward Counties.
They taught participants how to operate their appliances, how to safely use modes like ‘pressure cook’ and how to properly clean the cookers.
Then, participants split into groups and made a variety of dishes in their slow cookers and multicookers: tomato basil soup, oatmeal, minestrone, homemade applesauce and chili tomato macaroni.
Piening Keller said the participants expressed their appreciation for the kitchen equipment and the class.
“This is a wonderful thing you are doing! Thank you so much for helping those who need it,” one participant wrote.
“One of the participants wrote in her comments on her registration form that she had nothing – no spoons to eat with or pans to cook with,” Piening Keller said. “I purchased two pans for her. She also got utensils to help her. She gave me a hug when she left.”
Piening Keller said the secretaries at the schools were a tremendous asset in helping families register for the class, sending reminders and sharing scheduling information.
“This project would not have been successful without their help,” she said.
The Kiwanis Backpack Programs serve about 100 students at Milford Elementary, Seward elementary and middle schools, Blue Valley Community Action Head Start and Our Redeemer Lutheran School in Staplehurst.