With the help of a cutting board, colander and a Crock-Pot, a little social change is simmering in the basement of a West End church.
Welcome to the Monday morning Crock-Pot cooking class sponsored by The Urban, where a half-dozen residents of the inner city learn how to mix up something delicious and nutritious for their supper -- and share it with their family and friends.
"From a theological point, it is just to build somebody up," explains ministry manager Deborah Kerr, who runs the Lutheran-sponsored program from the basement of Lutheran Church of the Cross at 560 Arlington St.
"They get home and plug in their Crock-Pot and the smell goes through the building and people knock on their door and they (can) share it."
Although The Urban (http://www.theurban.ca/) has long been serving meals to folks in need, the Crock-Pot class mixes in cooking skills and a little ingenuity along with a hot meal, says Kerr.
Participants learn how to follow a recipe, substitute ingredients when necessary, and cook with a new palate of spices and herbs, she says. Each of the half-dozen participants in the six-week cooking class is provided with a six or seven litre slow cooker, a pair of chef's knives, a colander, measuring cups and spoons, a dozen bottles of spices, and a binder full of slow cooker recipes.
After sampling the day's recipe, the cooks chop and measure ingredients into their slow cookers, and take it home in a small covered grocery cart, and plug in the appliance in their own home or rooming house.
At the end of the course, all the equipment is theirs to keep, says Kerr.
"We have the best bargain shoppers in the world who are looking out for sales," says Kerr of her volunteers who put together the Crock-Pot kits, which can cost $100 or more.
Developed by Kerr's predecessor Sandy Belisle, the slow-cooker course is thought to be unique in church-run social services locally and beyond.
On Thursday, Dec. 5, 15 graduates of the course will return to The Urban for a friendly Crock-Pot cook-off, and will serve their concoctions to the program's volunteers, says Kerr.
"It's a unique way for The Urban members to give back to the community and strut their stuff," she says of the cook-off, which features Belisle, a chef, some elected officials and others as judges.
For Melissa Honke, the course gave her confidence in the kitchen and an opportunity to improve her cooking skills.
"It was new to me. Now I know how to make recipes in a Crock-Pot," says the 36-year-old mother of one, who enrolled in the first course. "Now I'm interested in cooking."
Classmate Sandra MacKinnon plugs in her Crock-Pot several times a week to make sure there's a hot meal at the end of the day for her nine-year-old grandson and her daughter, and plans on sharing her meal-in-a-pot skills in the community.
"We're having a cook-off at (my grandson's) school," explains the busy 70-year community volunteer and West End resident. "I'm going to bring my Crock-Pot over there and share it with them."
Kerr acknowledges that an essential ingredient in her work is sharing food and experiences, whether through the Crock-Pot class or the hot meals served to about 100 people three times a week by teams from local Lutheran congregations. But she argues that her ministry at The Urban also includes educating those in a place of privilege about the harsh realities of living in poverty.
"It's a huge learning experience for people in the congregations when they learn about challenges (poor) people have," says Kerr.