Cooking Up Fresh, Organic Veggies at Waltham Boys and Girls Club

How fortunate we are that Liza Connolly, chef and co-founder of Kids Cooking Green, has volunteered to pick up and help prepare our produce weekly during this fall’s pilot partnership program with Waltham Boys and Girls Club (WBGC). With a mission to inspire youth to reach their full potential, WBGC offers a welcoming space weekdays and holidays for athletics, creativity, social recreation, and community service. These activities require energy fueled by good food, yet for many of its members, hunger and nutrition are a daily challenge.

When Liza, who taught a few cooking classes at WBGC last spring, learned that Gaining Ground had a truck load of veggies up for grabs, she didn’t think twice before offering to pick up and deliver them to WBGC weekly. “The club is understaffed, so I knew if I didn’t volunteer the kids wouldn’t get the veggies. My love of and appreciation for locally grown foods runs deep. I personally have experienced the medicinal value of sustainably grown produce. This gift of lovingly farmed and harvested veggies was worth delivering to the kids of Waltham.”

It turned out just delivering the produce wasn’t enough. How was the kitchen staff going to manage the copious amount and array of produce on their tight schedules? Liza and her friend, Christine Tanski, again took it upon themselves to stay and cook. “We roasted four boxes of tomatoes with garlic and herbs to make sauce with shallot, fennel, and leeks. Butternut squash soup was a big hit; ratatouille pureed and added to beef for shepherd’s pie went over well and boosted the nutrients of that meal. Getting kids to eat their greens is always tricky, so we made leek and Swiss chard quiches. Plenty of veggies were cut into crudité: rutabaga, turnips, watermelon radishes, kohlrabi, carrots, and peppers, served to entice with a familiar Russian dressing.” Liza and Christine report that they “are having a blast, creating and cooking whatever the earth and the farmers offer each week.”

According to Greater Boston Food Bank, hunger impacts one in nine neighbors in Eastern Massachusetts, with one third of those being children, and Waltham is a community of concentrated need. A recent report by the Urban Institute and Feeding America found teens have unique nutrition obstacles due to sensitivity to peer approval and being overlooked by charitable anti-hunger efforts.

WBGC has responded with a food program that educates youth about food and nutrition, and provides free, healthy meals to its members. According to operations director Nick Caccioffi, as many as 70 young people depend on WBGC for their evening meals during the week. With the donations from Gaining Ground, these youth will now have more fresh, healthy produce on their plates this fall, thanks to the time and talent of caring staff and volunteers from dirt to dish.

Above: Volunteers Christine Hewes, Liza Connolly (in green), & BJ Daniel in the WBGC kitchen.

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