Cooking Matters began its partnership with Rosie’s Place in 2012. Rosie’s Place, located in Boston, was founded in 1974 and is a sanctuary for poor and homeless women. They serve 210 meals per day: breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday and dinner 365 days a year. The overnight shelter serves approximately 300 guests per year. Advocates provide services to approximately 12,000 poor and homeless women every year. Much more than just a shelter or a place to get a healthy meal, however, Rosie’s Place provides many resources, such as workshops and trainings for women to maintain their dignity, become self-sufficient and find security in their lives.
Cooking Matters recently spoke to Katy Erker, the Self Advocacy Manager from Rosie’s Place, to learn more about how our courses, tours and outreach fit into their mission. According to Katy, “The self-advocacy program is grounded in the belief that women who are experiencing homelessness and poverty can be their own best resources and advocates if we give them opportunities to learn and build their knowledge and confidence.” Cooking Matters was a perfect fit for the Rosie’s Place mission!
Since our partnership began, we have run one 6-week course, five Cooking Matters at the Store grocery store tours, and two workshops designed to provide Rosie’s Place guests with an opportunity to get basic nutrition and food budgeting tips. During the 6-week course, they had a number of women who were recent immigrants. They were able to connect with other guests who they hadn’t been able to connect with before because of the experience of sharing food and stories in the course. Katy said, “Now they’re more integrated into other services at Rosie’s Place because of the experience. They would have gotten there eventually, but Cooking Matters really helped them get there sooner and in a positive way.”
One of the most amazing effects of the course was that, after the 6-week program was over, one of the guests came forward and said she had cooking experience and wanted to use our toolkit “Cooking Matters in Your Community” with other guests who had not been able to participate in the course. With a nutrition intern, this guest was able to provide a great educational experience for other guests. The nutrition intern and the guest-turned-chef met each week to plan the workshop, create a shopping list, and implement six weeks of informative, interactive workshops for other guests. They cooked together. They ate together. They built community and empowered one another to make healthier food choices. Guests watched another guest take a leadership role, give back to the community and succeed. It was an invaluable experience for all who participated.
We asked Katy specifically how the grocery store tours fit into their goals to build self-sufficiency. She said, “Guests usually have to rely on service providers to provide information. So often poor and homeless women are told how to live. In Cooking Matters programs, staff and volunteers help people become their own best advocates. Here’s how to navigate the grocery store and advocate for yourself there. With Cooking Matters, people can then make their own informed decisions about how to make healthy delicious meals on a budget.” This speaks directly to our teaching philosophy that our participants are experts in their own lives—that if we provide information, they can decide what changes they wish to make.
Katy went on to say that the tours give guests good information and that they are really eye-opening, specifically around unit pricing. She laughed, saying: “Guests are arguing with tours leaders about unit pricing because they don’t believe it’s true!” Understanding unit pricing, one of the key concepts of the tour, has made a big difference in how guests now understand how to save money at the store. Guests also expressed that learning how to identify whole grains was helpful, specifically understanding that if a product says “wheat bread” it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a whole grain. Reading food labels, another key concept of the tour, also hit home with guests. One guest had been under the impression that “trans fat” meant “low fat.” Participating in a tour helped clarify this information for her. “People have also been really intrigued by learning about the layout of the store and shopping the perimeter,” Katy shared. “They’re sharing the information they learn with other guests.”
What’s in store for future collaboration between Cooking Matters and Rosie’s Place? Rosie’s Place is considering offering a monthly standing tour to guests. Most guests cannot otherwise get to a regular grocery store due to transportation issues, so two options may be offered for those who participate: an independent shopping trip and a Cooking Matters at the Store tour. “If guests want to go and shop and spend their SNAP benefits, that’s fine. If they want to do a tour, that’s great. Those who do the tour will get a $10 gift card.”
Cooking Matters programming has been received positively by Rosie’s Place guests. Katy expressed, “We would do it more often if we had more time to get people involved. It’s always one of the favorite sessions.”