Gwinnett County Public Library

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Something interesting happened when Gwinnett County Public Libraries partnered with other organizations to distribute food during the pandemic last year. Jason DiFranco, director of Development and Community Relations for the 15-branch library system, remembers it well.

“We were distributing food, and we kept getting pulled aside by people asking how to cook the fresh vegetables and proteins we provided,” he says. “We started bringing in culinary professionals to answer those questions, and we discovered the need to provide classes not only on kitchen skills but also on good nutrition.”

After researching ways to meet that need, the library used a Jackson EMC Foundation grant to purchase Kitchen a’ la Cart, a mobile culinary cart outfitted with all it takes to prepare a full meal, including a sink, oven, microwave, blender, cutting boards, safety knives, measuring cups and more.

“Kitchen a’ la Cart is loaded with everything necessary for people to develop and strengthen math, reading and team building skills via food preparation,” says DiFranco. “Students learn nutritional facts and follow recipes that show the importance of smart food choices.”

DiFranco recognizes that libraries not only hold books but can also serve as hubs for community needs and knowledge by providing a host of educational opportunities, including learning how to cook. “We realized during the food distributions that too many people are reliant on microwaves and fast-food meals,” he says. “We knew it was important to offer education on cooking so they could learn how to prepare a meal for themselves and their family.”

The library already offered YouTube cooking programs, but the mobile cart enables them to take cooking lessons into communities across Gwinnett County. The program targets people ages six and up with lessons progressing from proficiency with measuring spoons to cooking an entire meal. Along the way, students learn the importance of good nutrition and how to incorporate that into meal preparation.

“We feel that food is foundational to lifelong health, education and economy,” says DiFranco. “We’ve seen firsthand the power of cooking as a medium for learning. For individuals who don’t thrive in a traditional learning environment, hands-on learning – and cooking in particular – can unlock one’s potential and open a window to greater understanding of the world around them.”

Along with broadening its ability to meet diverse needs, the mobile kitchen helps the library system fulfill its major goal.

“Every aspect of it, like measuring and reading recipes, fits into our ultimate mission, which is literacy,” says DiFranco. “The Jackson EMC Foundation grant was a blessing, and the community’s interest in the mobile kitchen has exceeded our expectations.”

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