For 10 years Bonnie was afraid to use a kitchen knife or her own stove. Panic attacks had impacted her ability to eat and prepare nutritious foods. Then she found a new way of managing her worries.
“I had so many fears around the kitchen,” says Bonnie. “With education and a large dose of patience I’ve gained the confidence to chop vegetables, debone meat and serve up chicken dinners.”
Bonnie is a graduate of The Salvation Army’s Dinner Bell program in Campbell River, B.C.—a partnership established in 2013 between Island Health, Campbell River Mental Health and Substance Use (MHSU) services and The Salvation Army’s Ocean Crest Ministries.
“The program delivers training and nutrition that supports the health and well-being of people battling mental-health issues,” says Sean Junglas of The Salvation Army.
Program trainees work with Program Coordinator and Professional Cook Connie Preston for six months in a licensed industrial kitchen environment. A solid grounding in food preparation and kitchen skills enables students to compete for employment opportunities in the food services industry. And fabulous frozen entrees produced at the program are sold at a reasonable price to other referred clients, which address their serious issues of poor nutrition and poverty.
“I love hearing reports from students about their kitchen success stories,” says Chef Connie. “The program is a positive, innovative, way of helping society’s overlooked people find hope, purpose and fulfillment.”
Students and graduates report many positive changes including improved health, skill development and increased confidence and self-esteem. They are reaching personal goals such as cooking for family and friends, pursuing further education and successfully obtaining market employment in the community.
Bonnie has become quite skilled at basic cooking and has traded in her TV dinners and take-outs for healthier options. One of her specialties is Spanakopita, a delicious pie made with spinach and feta cheese.
“I’ve come a long way,” says Bonnie. “A year ago I stood in my kitchen helplessly frozen in fear, heart racing and chest pounding. Now I enjoy cooking and am eating well.”