Cooking Up Community at Greater Mount Zion

Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church has been hosting SFC’s The Happy Kitchen community cooking class series since 2008, and their series is consistently among the easiest series to organize and the most satisfying series for participants. This is due almost entirely to the trio of facilitators who lead this class each year, and who also attend Greater Mount Zion. Thanks to their dedication to this series, over 200 participants have taken advantage of these classes.

The class is easy to organize because the facilitators, as church members themselves, know their community: they are experts in getting the word out, and many of their invitations are personal ones. Church members are more likely to commit to this series because classes meet at a familiar location and because some members have heard about the program through the years and may have a personal connection to a facilitator or to someone in the class.

The series is so successful because participants and facilitators connect with one another very quickly. We always do our best to pair facilitators with classes where they can best relate with participants. When we do classes at a school, we try to find facilitators who have kids so they can speak to the challenges of cooking for picky eaters, or finding time to cook with busy, hungry kids. For our class in Round Rock, all of the facilitators live in Round Rock or north Austin so they can share shopping tips for that area (like when one of the nearby H-E-Bs updated their yogurt section during the series and participants were struggling to find unflavored yogurt). The connections happen even more quickly at Greater Mount Zion because of the shared bond of church membership.

When participants and facilitators connect, they’re more comfortable participating, and with sharing their successes and their challenges. When I visited the series last fall, I noted that five different participants volunteered to help prepare that night’s recipe, and that when asked if they had tried making the recipe from the previous week, the answer was a resounding yes, with many additions. To the eggplant spread, one added collards, one blended in small batches, one stir-fried the eggplant first, one mashed with a potato masher for a chunkier dip, and more. There were also a few people who didn’t make the recipe, and they were willing to admit it, probably because there was less pressure in a comfortable environment. Participants in another type of cooking class may be hesitant to admit to a chef that they always burn rice or to tell a nutritionist that their family will protest if the soda disappears from the fridge, but when you’re surrounded by your church community, and when one of the facilitators has just shared about her own struggle to convince her family to try ground turkey, it feels a lot safer to speak up about what will and won’t work for your family.

Our facilitators are cooking up community again this fall at Greater Mount Zion, and at classes all over town, too. And in the words of one class participant when asked to rate the class facilitators, they are “SUPER. EXCELLENT. AWESOME. PHENOMENAL. HELPFUL. CONSCIOUS. PERSONABLE. CULTURALLY SENTITIVE & AWARE. KNOWLEDGEABLE. ENGAGING & ENTERTAINING.”