Teaching ‘drive-thru’ customers

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LEWISTON – After helping hungry people get food for 16 years, Joyce Gagnon hopes to help them cook it, too.

Gagnon plans to create a nutrition center next to the food pantry she runs in Lewiston’s downtown. And she’ll have help.

Sisters of Charity Health System, which oversees the food pantry on one side of the former Wallace School, plans to install a demonstration kitchen and classroom on the other side. The Bank of America has pledged $75,000 toward the construction and appliance costs of the new Sisters of Charity Nutrition Center.

The goal is to help people prepare healthier, less expensive meals.

Too many folks think food preparation requires either a microwave or a drive-through window, Gagnon said Thursday.

“It’s our time, and our society,” Gagnon said. “We’re all busy. We’re all tired.”

Her first aim is to teach people how to prepare nutritious meals using food staples, foods which are sometimes ignored by people who use the pantry.

As they would in a grocery store, many people at the pantry gravitate toward processed, ready-to-serve foods, Gagnon said.

She has had trouble in the past giving away some healthy foods such as frozen turkeys, even around Thanksgiving.

“Many people don’t have recipe books at home,” she said. “They never learned to cook them.”

With the nutrition center, Gagnon imagines having a chef teach a classroom full of people how to prepare a turkey and the fixings. Then, as the class ends, each attendee would be given a box with a turkey and all the ingredients.

The renovation will begin right away, said Jennifer Radel, spokeswoman for Sisters of Charity.

More details, including a floor-plan for the work and total costs, will be released Monday at a morning news conference, she said. Jim Cassidy, CEO of Sisters of Charity Health System, and Steve DeCastro, Bank of America’s senior client manager for commercial lending, plan to talk about the project.

Radel hopes the center will draw a broad cross-section of the community, bringing more people to the former school than only those who use the food pantry.

Food classes might tackle such issues as diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity, drawing people who might afford a diet with a wide variety of food but lack the knowledge to cook it.

A local celebrity chef might teach a class or two, Gagnon said. She has also talked with a Somali woman about teaching locals how to prepare some Somali dishes.

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