Walking into the kitchen at the Mustard Seed, the smell of cumin and curry is thick in the air.
Five people are huddled around an island chopping apples and green onions, and stirring a large pot of soup.
The kitchen is small, but packs a punch. There is a large stove, fridge and its door-less cupboards are stocked full of spices, dishes and other cooking ingredients.
It is also the setting of a new program called the community kitchen put on by the Mustard Seed.
The program teaches individuals recipes they can cook with the food provided in the roughly 5,000 hampers distributed monthly.
Hamper items include canned soups and beans, a meat item, bread, cereal, dairy, chocolate, fruits and vegetables.
The first community kitchen kicked off in the summer and was modelled after a similar program organized by Cool-Aid Society’s downtown community centre.
Since then, there have been sessions on cooking with apples (where they made curry soup with apples, apple sauce and apple crisp), beans and canning with anywhere from a few to six people participating.
Derek Pace, frontline manager with the Mustard Seed, said the program promotes healthy eating by taking hamper items, which are high in sodium and sugar, and mixing it with fresh produce.
“Because we are a food secure building and a food bank, we not only want to offer them the hampers that we do, but give them some skills and maybe introduce different spices that you can use to augment flavour, but also to augment health,” Pace said.
Raya-Jayne Peters has been living off the hampers for the past six months.
“I like being involved in anything in the community. I feel like I can contribute some of my knowledge and have fun with people while I’m doing it,” she said, adding the Mustard Seed has helped supplement her diet because of food allergies.
Lynn Orr, a long-time volunteer with the food bank and member of the church, said the program is long over due.
“A young girl or boy who may have left home at a young age might not know that carrot or tomato isn’t bad. You can put it in a pot and make vegetable soup,” Orr said.
“I just feel like it’s an old school mothers and aunts and everybody coming together and bonding over cooking a meal. I just see the people here coming and feeling very comfortable. We’re all on the same level.”
Pace hopes to expand the program to host it every week.
The Mustard Seed is the largest food bank on Vancouver Island.