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Cowichan Community Kitchens celebrates 20 years

A Community Kitchens crew prepares a meal last year. - Krista Siefken/file
A Community Kitchens crew prepares a meal last year.
— image credit: Krista Siefken/file

For two decades, Cowichan Community Kitchens has cooked for themselves.

And since Kay Wyckham gathered the organization's first participants together in June, 1992, groups have come together in valley church kitchens, community halls, a friendship centre and even homes to prepare inexpensive nutritious meals to feed their families.

The message is simple: "Give a family food, you feed them for a day. Teach a family to cook, you feed them for generations."

"I always felt that what works best for feeding ourselves is grassroots," says Lori Iannidinardo, CCK coordinator.

"A community kitchen is a place where you make healthy meals, save money, make friends and have fun," explains Iannidinardo. "It's a quilting bee, only with food."

She's thrilled that the program she's led for 16 years continues to thrive.

"It's wonderful. I've been plugging away at it all these years, and it's great to see people rallying to pitch in," she said.

Initial funding for the organization in 1992 came from the Vancouver Sun Children's Fund and the Union Board of Health. The first co-ordinator was hired for 15 hours a week in March 1993.

Currently, six groups prepare meals at Cobble Hill and Honeymoon Bay Community Halls, Lake Cowichan Centennial Hall, St. John's Church Duncan, St. John's Church South Cowichan and Warmland House.

Typically, groups gather once each month to prepare three to five nutritious meals. At the first get-together, the group decides on recipes, makes a shopping list, calculates the cost of groceries and decides who will do the shopping.

Cooking day arrives about a week later.  Group members cook all the meals, divide the food to take home, have lunch, clean the kitchen and set a date for next time.

"Each kitchen is unique and is directed by the group's needs," Iannidinardo says.

Through the years, special groups formed and then dispersed. In Field to Garden the group harvested organic food from a Cobble Hill Mountain farm, prepared a lunch and took home the produce. In Chemainus Community School's FOOD 4 FUN program children joined caregivers in the food preparation.

"Singles, families, single parents, people with disabilities, youth and seniors belong to the groups. Community kitchens provide relief from financial, nutritional, and social challenges," says website information.

Iannidinardo says the opportunities to get together for low-cost cooking have been welcomed by apartment-dwelling singles. "It takes away some of the isolation."

"Community Kitchens is about sharing skills and ideas. It all comes from community."

And community is the theme of CCK's 20th anniversary as it plans to celebrate the milestone with a birthday party at Duncan's Centennial Park June 16.

The main event in the 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. gathering will be the kick-off for a major new project at the park - an open air oven, says event organizer Alison Mercer.

"We've invited Mayor Phil Kent who with Lori will cut the ribbon in a symbolic sod-turning that signifies the start of digging for the open air oven," she explains.

"We're celebrating the people who have supported the organization by donating food and funds."

Founder Wyckham is scheduled to attend the event that will include a collage of the group's history, Island Savings Youth Team crafts for children and refreshments.

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