A unique and empowering “adaptive” cooking class for people with disabilities that's been operating on a wing and a prayer for the past three years now has stable footing.
On Wednesday (Oct. 16) London North Centre MPP Deb Matthews dropped into the intermediate cooking and nutrition class at the Church of St. Jude at Adelaide and Fanshawe Park Road East.
She brought with her news that the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) had approved two years of operating funding for the class in the amount of $26,500.
She said the OTF investment is proof the adaptive cooking classes are a worthy cause.
“It’s really hard to get funding from Trillium (an arms-length government agency),” Matthews said. “The projects that are selected are the absolute greatest.”
According to co-founders Brenda Ryan and Anne Robertson, the money means they can plan out the classes without wondering literally where their next meal is going to come from.
“It makes a big difference,” Robertson said. “A lot of stuff was coming from our own pockets. It means now we can plan to hold eight classes without having to worry about where the money is going to come from.”
Robertson and Ryan started the classes to in 2011 when they saw a need for cooking instruction for people with disabilities that would make life in the kitchen a bit easier.
With instructor Chef Nick Gucanin-Gazibaric, the executive chef at the Best Western Lamplighter Inn, the program will offer basic, intermediate and advanced classes to as many as 16 students four times per year. The once-a-week courses last six weeks and cover a wide variety of material related to preparing nutritious, economical and delicious meals, right from how to spread peanut butter to making chili, smoothies and wraps, to how to budget for groceries and menu/meal plan.
The courses also highlight affordable tools that make cooking safer and easier for persons with disabilities.
Something as simple as a $10 one-cup coffee or tea brewing machine can make a huge difference, since moving/pouring hot water can be a dangerous task for someone who is visually impaired, or experiences tremours, according to Robertson.
“We try to buy them at Walmart or Canadian Tire because the medical supply companies can be very expensive,” she said.
She pointed out some of the dozens of gadgets on display at the centre of the de facto classroom: a cutting board with a raised corner so bread can be braced against it and buttered with one hand, a cork board with a handle and rollers to move hot pots around, a battery-powered stirrer, even a slap-chop are all things that can make a big difference in the life of a person with a disability.
For 35-year-old Regina, a wheelchair user since she was four, knowing more about how to prepare food has been a good experience.
She started with the basic class earlier this year, is taking the intermediate class now and plans to take the advanced class later on. She said she enjoys the classes and finding new recipes for her personal attendant to prepare for her.
The first-come, first-served program has participants who are clients of several organizations including the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Participation House, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Community Living London and Cheshire Homes.
Cheshire Homes executive director Judith Fisher said clients who participate in the cooking classes benefit from the social aspect almost as much as the cooking instruction.
“The people here learn a skill they are able to put to use immediately,” she said, “but there is a very important social aspect too. Anne and Brenda are just two dynamos who took a simple idea and put their energy behind it. There is no question in my mind this will have a great impact.”