It’s the day before Thanksgiving and I’ve been invited to my sister Kim’s home in New Jersey.
I love visiting her because coffee is always served outside on her porch overlooking her beautiful gardens. We catch up on our families and then we plan our meals based on what is ready in her garden. The herbs are always plentiful and as we reach the end of the season, her root vegetables will play a big part in our menu. Kim loves to entertain and shares with me that she will be hosting a brunch before Thanksgiving. I love this! Cooking food for friends, especially new people is always a community experience.
After coffee I explore her refrigerator to work on a brunch menu. I see that she has a meal kit from Blue Apron. I take the box out and unload its contents to see what I’ll have to work with. This kit is wonderful! Everything you need to make a dinner is in there. This kit is a great way to teach someone how to cook basic sauces, proteins and vegetables. Immediately the menu comes together. We make mini quiche, garden fritattas, roasted potatoes with fresh herbs, roasted root vegetables with fresh thyme and crushed garlic, curried chickpea salad served with homemade crackers, homemade muffins bursting with Maine blueberries and a hint of lemon zest, fresh fruit with Kim’s garden mint and a host of fresh juices and coffees.
As I was preparing the dishes, I thought “Why can’t everyone have access to meal kits like this”. These kits are a great way to teach basic cooking skills. Since COVID19, it’s been almost impossible to arrange cooking classes so I thought maybe we can create meal kits like these for everyone to teach them in their homes. My main focus was people who are experiencing food insecurity. I have volunteered at food pantries and local farmers and grocery stores donate pounds of fresh produce. But watching people walk past the produce table was upsetting for me. The food they are given is great. Don’t get me wrong. But to walk past the produce table and lose the opportunity to add nutritional value to their meals was something I couldn’t ignore. Through no fault of their own, food insecurity is generally passed down. If you’re not taught how to cook basic meals, you can’t teach your children how to cook them either. The pantries do an amazing job of sourcing the staple pantry items. Volunteers work tirelessly to make sure everyone that is present gets as much as they can give. It’s a beautiful program. The teaching piece is missing. Not because they won’t offer it but because they have so much to do in a day to coordinate these bags of food. This where we come in.
We are The Community Gourmet. We are based out of Kennebunk, Maine.My name is Traci Anello and I’m the Founder. I went out and bought basic staple food pantry items and lined them on my counter. I made a menu based on what I had available and what I knew the pantries could offer. The first kit I made was the Pasta Kit. It contained two ponds of pasta, a 20oz can of tomato sauce, an 8oz container of parmesan cheese, a 10oz container of mayonnaise, three recipes, a handcrafted greeting card using the photos I’ve taken at farmers markets, a self stamped survey post card (a way for recipients to be heard) and eventually we started to add essential kitchen equipment like measuring cups, spoons, calendars, cutting boards, pot holders, ladels, etc.. It’s important that if we supply the recipes, we also provide the basic equipment to follow the recipes. Our three recipes show how to use a staple like pasta three different ways. For our pasta kit, our recipes are Pasta with Meatballs, Pasta Primavera and Pasta salad. It shows the versatility of pasta used both hot and cold and a great way to get those nutritious vegetables in there.
I talked with my co-worker Debbie Hall and we decided to give this a go. As a chef, I knew I could tap into my resources and get some of the foods from restaurants ordered and donated. Most of the food we bought through our fundraiser accepting donations from our homemade Raspberry linzer cookies. We packaged them by the dozen and asked for a suggested donation of $15.00. We had no idea how popular these would be. We go on to make over 100 dozen through the summer during various fundraisers. The local Chamber of Commerce (Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel) has been wonderful and very supportive. We have our cookie fundraisers there and could not be more thrilled at all of the people we get to meet who support our mission. Our mission which is: Teaching, Caring and Nourishing. Our kits are at no cost to the people who receive them. As a matter of fact, we concentrate on the people who don’t qualify for government assistance. The thought of asking for help and being told that they do not qualify breaks my heart. We have decided to have our kits available to everyone. There are no questions asked. If yo need help and reach out, we will direct you to where you can pick up a kit.
Our first pantry was The Little Pantry in Kennebunk at the Chamber of Commerce. t’s a 24/7 emergency pantry and they do a tremendous job working with the community to keep it stocked. Laura Dolce, the director, has such a big heart. She’s been very supportive along with her team at the Chamber. The Chamber is a valuable resource and we appreciate everything they do for the communities. Kennebunk is a giving community. The residents do not hesitate to step up and support their neighbors. Other places we supply kits to is the York County Shelter Pantry in Alfred, Maine. This is our largest pantry and covers many towns. They do over 300 people a week here. Mike Oulette is the pantry manager and along with Jim, his assistant, and their volunteers, they run a tight ship and supply many people with the necessary foods and even food for their pets! Saint Mary’s church in Wells, Maine is also a wonderful supporter of ours. Paul Goyette and his volunteers welcome our kits and pass them out to the people who come to their weekly food pantry. I love their set up. Paul is a wonderful resource of information for us as well. Our newest pantry is a self made pantry by a mom who wanted to help her community. Big Love One Community in North Berwick, Maine is so cute! Sara Dutch along with her husband built a pantry on a trailer. The inside looks like a grocery store. It’s painted with bright cheerful colors and it gives you the privacy to shop and maintain your dignity. She has a flower plant hanging outside and a big heart on the side of her building. I absolutely love what she does! We have additional pantries that we would like to supply but we are in need of a larger space. We have outgrown our current location and are in search for a larger space about 500 sqft. Once we accomplish that, we can accommodate more pantries.
Our focus right now is to have kits made available to senior citizens as well as the pantries. we are in the process of creating a kit that provides seniors with meals. Recently I was told that Meals on Wheels which is a wonderful program can not accommodate all of the seniors who request their meals. Again, the “do not qualify”. That’s the worst answer anyone can hear. we understand resources are tight. That’s why we would like to pick up that burden if we can. We would like to have these kits available at the agencies that seniors have to visit so they have something to walk out with that will provide meals for them for a period of time. These seniors have been a valuable resource for younger people not to mention the programs they have probably been a part of and the taxes that they have paid into all of these years. It’s time to give back.
We are still new to the game. Our first kits rolled out in March of this year. Ofcourse we sent out sample kits earlier but officially our first kits went to the Little Pantry in Kennebunk in March. Food insecurity is everywhere. We would like to be everywhere. Right now we are in York County Maine with a vision to supply every county in Maine eventually. From there, regional, national and so on. If we can teach people the basic cooking skills using pantry items and produce from our farmers, we on track to putiing a dent in food insecurity. “Give a man to fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime”.
Visit our website: http://www.thecommunitygourmet.org