District’s food services director volunteers at local food pantry

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, September 29, 2015

(Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

(Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

Many of the local families who visited ACTION Center food pantry last Saturday received something special alongside their usual bag of food items.

A plate of homemade apple and Craisin crisp, along with instructions on how to recreate the simple and tasty dessert at home.

Stopping by the Dowagiac food pantry that morning was Dowagiac Union Schools Food Services Director Deb Cahill, who brought in the dish she had made to share with people coming in that morning.

The local chef whipped up the desert before coming into the pantry that morning, coming up with the idea based on many of the items being handed out by ACTION volunteers this month, which included a bushel of apples and packages of dried cranberries.

Cahill has been volunteering at the local food pantry for the last six months, usually coming in the second Saturday every month with a different dish to share with visitors, she said. The food services director decided to get involved with the local pantry after talking with Becky Peters, another volunteer with ACTION who also works as a lunch aide at Justus Gage Elementary School, Cahill said.

“It’s fun for me to come here every month,” she said. “I’ve gotten to know so many people in the community through my work here, that I wouldn’t have just working with the schools.”

Every dish she prepares at the ACTION Center incorporates the canned goods, produce and other items being handed out to families that month, along with other basic, inexpensive cooking ingredients, she said. Among the other dishes she has created included a simple vegetable soup, using canned produce, as well as dish made from a spaghetti squash, she said.

“It’s kind of like a mystery basket, where you get all this stuff and now you have to figure out what do with it,” Cahill said.

Along with servings of the dish itself, Cahill brings handouts containing the recipe with her to the pantry every month, in order to encourage visitors to try their own hand at recreating it at home.

With fast food joints and frozen dinners becoming staples of the American diet over the last 30-plus years, many adults today have never learned to cook for themselves or their children, at least on a regular basis, Cahill said. By introducing visitors to simple, affordable dishes, the chef hopes that more local families begin to eat and enjoy homemade, healthy meals, she said.

“That’s the key, to show them that cooking can be an easy, easy thing,” Cahill said.

The ACTION Center food pantry is open from 10 a.m. to noon every Saturday. The building is located at 301 Main St. in Dowagiac.