Private donor helps Virginia Family Nutrition Program give cookware to families in need

a man slicing zuccinni

Family Nutrition Program participants learn healthy living strategies including healthy cooking, physical activity, and thrifty food shopping.

Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Family Nutrition Program recently launched a new pilot program called Let’s Get Cookin’. The program, taught by Family Nutrition Program Assistants in northern Virginia, focuses on healthy living strategies including healthy cooking, physical activity, and thrifty food shopping. At the end of each program series, participants who complete the entire course will receive a cookware set.

This initiative began in August 2016, when the Family Nutrition Program received a call from a private donor who wanted to contribute to the program. Since the Family Nutrition Program works with limited-resource families and SNAP recipients, the donor suggested giving cookware sets as an incentive to participants who completed the programs.

“He pointed out that participants may not have the right equipment at home to put the skills they learn to use,” explained Stephanie Diehl, the northern district area coordinator for the Family Nutrition Program.

The Family Nutrition Program’s goal is to offer this incentive to 120 families throughout the year-long pilot. Since Let’s Get Cookin’ launched, the Family Nutrition Program has organized seven groups who have either already graduated, are in progress, or are scheduled to soon begin. These classes are being taught in Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, and Prince William County. Program assistants teaching Let’s Get Cookin’ classes already notice a significant change in their classes’ participation.

“My community is loving this! They are cooking and they are so engaged! I have two guys in one of my classes and we call one guy “the chef.” He and the other guy have asked if there are any volunteer opportunities around town to help with cooking and gardening,” said Anita Eggleton, program assistant in Prince William County.

The donor hopes that this generous gift will inspire other community members to support the Let’s Get Cookin’ initiative so that it may continue to offer families both the skills and equipment necessary to make healthy foods at home. The program has already piqued the interests of community partners in schools and churches who want to offer the program and incentive to parents and clients.

Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Family Nutrition Program plans to evaluate the pilot at the end of the year for its effectiveness in northern Virginia. If proven successful, they hope to solicit more donations in order to expand the program statewide. To learn about contributing to the Let’s Get Cookin’ initiative’s success, potential donors may contact Stephanie Diehl at (540) 432-6029, ext. 105.

Virginia Cooperative Extension is an educational outreach partnership between Virginia Tech and Virginia State University whose mission is to deliver education in agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, community viability, and 4-H youth development in order to provide solutions to problems facing Virginians. The Family Nutrition Program’s role in this mission is to teach limited-resource families and youth how to make healthy food choices and become good managers of available food resources for optimal health and growth. Funded by the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), their programs focus on basic nutrition, physical activity, safe food handling, and thrifty food shopping. To learn more about the Family Nutrition Program visit their website, eatsmart.ext.vt.edu.

This article was originally published in Prince William Living.