MANCHESTER - The Community Food Cupboard, in collaboration with Hunger Free Vermont, Head Start, and the Manchester Elementary Middle School, is hoping to teach better food preparation to area residents for maximum nutritional value and to counter obesity.

Known as The Learning Kitchen, the program has just finished up its fourth week, with 11 participants learning the values of cooking healthy food while on a budget at the MEMS kitchen. The program, first started by Hunger Free Vermont, is a six-week series of lectures and cooking demonstrations designed to introduce healthy, nutritious foods.

Every meal is made from scratch. The participants chop, mix and combine ingredients with direction from the chef, Mary Keyes, who is also the manager of the cafeteria at MEMS.

According to Susan Pierce, the coordinator of the Head Start services in the Northshire, at the end of the evening, all participants and their children taste the food and they are given bags of the food items to prepare in their own kitchen. Childcare offered to the participants, many of whom have young children. MEMS middle school students who have taken a babysitting course that are helping in the Early Education classroom.

"The Director of the Community Food Cupboard, Emmy McCucker, initiated this grant of $1,400," Pierce said. "As a member of the board as well as the coordinator of the Head Start services in the Northshire, I have been administering the grant with the CFC Manager, Martha Carey. The application was accepted in December and it is a coordinated effort between CFC, MEMS, and Head Start,"

The nutritional discussion is led by Deedee Anglum, a social worker with a degree in nutrition. She leads discussions on topics such as My Food Plate, nutritional value of food, combining exercise and diet for a healthy lifestyle, and other topics related to nutrition.

"Mary is the chef, she does the kitchen stuff and then I help educate the group about the food choices that they are making, how to make a healthy meal on a limited budget, that is basically what we are doing here," Anglum said. "We are also teaching the participants how to make some behavioral changes too like how to read a food label, how to not stray away from the shopping list; things like that."

After they are finished cooking their meals, Anglum, who has a strong background in hosting community nutritional events, will talk about how to change the nutritional aspect of people's lives. The participants are then able to eat the food they have cooked.

"There was an orientation from the Learning Kitchen coordinator at the state level, Laura Fillbach. Manuals are provided to each participant and there are recipes for each week. There is a pre and post test to determine change in eating habits and knowledge," Pierce said. "So far, we have been very pleased with the delicious meals and the enthusiasm of the participants."

The Manchester Community Food Cupboard provides nutritious food to people in need in the Northshire area. Located at the Manchester Center Town Office Building, food is distributed each Tuesday from 10 a.m. until noon and 2 p.m. until 4 p.m., and Wednesday from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m.

Hunger Free Vermont, formerly known as the Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger, is an education and advocacy organization with the mission to end the injustice of hunger and malnutrition for all Vermonters. Incorporated in 1993, they are a statewide, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing nutrition education and expanding access to nutrition programs that nourish Vermont's children, families, and communities.