They say that the quickest way into someone’s heart is through their stomach. For one group of Georgia 4-H club members, their heartfelt, healthy meals are touching the hearts of their community one family at a time.
For the past six years, 4-H Club members in Oglethorpe County have provided meals to needy families through the Cooking to Share program. In that time, almost 1,000 students have come together to cook meals for 39 families in need and learned some important lessons about food preparation and healthy eating along the way.
“I like knowing that we’re making sure someone’s going to have a meal that night, and we’re making sure that meal’s going to be delicious,” said Ja’Khiyan Brown, an eighth-grade Georgia 4-H member who has been participating in Cooking to Share for the past three years.
Brown was one of 25 4-H’ers who gathered in the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension office in Oglethorpe County on a 30-degree January afternoon to whip up trays of ziti and salad for a local family. As they do each month, the students met after school to chop, boil and brown ingredients and interpret recipes. They’re supervised by a team of adults including Oglethorpe County Extension 4-H Agent Marcus Eason, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent Brad Averill, AmeriCorps member Jade Andrews, and, Eason’s mother, Jane Eason, who volunteers to help coach the young cooks.
Next, the students donated the meal to a local family in need identified by the school social worker at Oglethorpe County Middle School. The results are grateful families and middle school kids with new life skills.
Eason modeled the program after the successful Cooking to Care program pioneered by Oconee County 4-H. The programs began as an initiative to teach kids safe food preparation and kitchen safety. Around half of all foodborne illnesses occur in those under age 15.
After participating in the program, the 4-H’ers reported that they had increased their knowledge of foodborne illness by 90 percent, increased their skills in the kitchen by 95 percent and increased their understanding of the need to help those less fortunate than themselves by 100 percent.
Many parents of participants have noticed a significant increase in their child’s interest in food and willingness to help around the kitchen.
By supporting struggling families and helping kids gain the skills and confidence they need in the kitchen, Cooking to Share has brought Oglethorpe County 4-H’ers to the table in terms of community and family engagement, Eason said.
“They’re learning about food safety, healthy diets, knife skills and kitchen safety, but they’re also providing a service to the community,” Eason said. “So they’re actually learning a lot about giving back.”
To learn more about UGA Extension's 4-H programs that benefit students and communities, visit Georgia4H.org.