Project Neighborly: Kendall Kids Cookin’ with Gas!

Andi Browne runs EATery at the Mt. Baker School District’s Kendall Elementary School. Every Thursday, she and her volunteers from the School Garden Committee combine art and food for creative lessons in cooking, nutrition and the power of group effort.

In 2013, the Boston Globe reported that more than 70 percent of children live with two busy working parents or a single parent, which means more takeout, fewer opportunities to learn essential home skills within the home itself, and increasing levels of childhood obesity. Andi and her colleagues know this. They are doing something about it.

With support from Project Neighborly, Andi and her crew kicked it up a notch on an early May Tuesday at the East Whatcom County Regional Resource Center’s monthly Community Meal, which was established to “build connections, support one another and share a nourishing meal in an atmosphere of welcome.” In an orchestrated frenzy, they spent three hours preparing a special dinner for about 100 Peaceful Valley residents.

Not only did the kids cook from scratch, their menu symbolized the four communities living in the Valley: salmon for the Nooksack; roasted root vegetables and avocado salad, for Slavic and Latino neighbors; and rhubarb harvested from the gardens of long time homesteaders for a delicious crisp.

The evening also included a simple art project that reinforced the evening’s neighborly purpose. People were encouraged to write “messages of peace, poems, designs” on small rocks supplied at each table as part of the community peace pole project.

As these cooks intended, all who feasted came away feeling that the kids’ work of sharing and abundance nourished people’s bodies as well their spirits.

“Communal meals transform food into something more unique and meaningful — neighbors eating together reminds us we all have the same needs,” organizers explained. “Collective art allows those who participate to become part of something greater than themselves.”

photos by Alan Friedlob