Creating Community through Healthy Meals in Waterloo
For those of us with access to fresh, healthy food, it’s hard to imagine that many families are food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to adequate amounts of nutritious food. In some cases, they lack access to any food at all.
In Canada, as many as 13 percent of the population lives in a state of food insecurity. The root cause of hunger in Canada, according to Food Banks Canada, is low income, something that affects more than four million Canadians at any given time.
Yet, even for those low-income families who may have access to healthier food options, many lack the time and knowledge of how to prepare a healthy meal. At the end of a long day, fast or prepackaged food can become the default option for families.
The Desire to Be a Positive Presence in Downtown Waterloo
For the NetSuite team in Waterloo, the desire to give back was strong. The team there, led by Joseph Fung, VP of Product Development, has an active SuiteImpact program, engaging NetSuite employees in local volunteer activities and donation drives in and around their office.
As the office grew to occupy a larger section of downtown, the team wanted to find ways to do even more to support the local community, especially its low-income residents. Inspired by a blog post his aunt had written about the power of teaching low-income families to cook healthy, affordable meals, Ian Ring, a Product Developer at NetSuite and SuiteImpact Ambassador for the Waterloo office, decided to pitch the idea of offering cooking classes to low-income families as a way that NetSuite employees could give back to the area around their office. The team loved the idea and immediately got to work planning how they would run the program.
To determine which families would participate in the pilot of the program, Ring turned to Working Centre, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing unemployment and poverty in downtown Kitchener through technology access, a soup kitchen, employment resources, and more. Ring says an early meeting with Working Centre co-founder Joe Mancini helped him understand that in addition to focusing on how the team would teach class participants to cook, the team needed to focus on removing the barriers that would prohibit a family from being able to participate – things like providing transportation to and from the class, childcare during the class and serving a meal since many participants would be attending during meal time.
Slower Cooking, Faster Meals
Realizing that time is often a barrier for low-income families when it comes to preparing a healthy meal, Ring and his team decided that their class would teach participants to cook using a slow cooker (or crock pot), naming the program “Slower Cooking, Faster Meals.” That way, a healthy meal was as simple as adding the ingredients to the crock pot and turning it on. By the time families came home at the end of the day, the meal would be ready to eat.
For the initial pilot, the team provided class participants with a week’s worth of meals. Katie Tregonning, a Technical Support Specialist at NetSuite and a graduate of culinary school, took the lead for menu planning, including figuring out ways that meals could be made vegetarian.
In addition to planning out the menus and choosing ingredients, Simon Clark, a Senior Software Engineer at NetSuite who helped plan the initial pilot as a SuiteImpact Ambassador, says that the team couldn’t overlook the need to provide class participants with all of the tools they would need to prepare meals, including a crockpot, and a chopping knife, cutting board, measuring cups, silverware and dishes. To make sure participants had everything they needed to be successful, the team put together kits with the ingredients and all of the kitchen tools.
To prepare for the pilot, Ring and Clark say the team spent a Friday afternoon and evening preparing and taste testing each meal. Both agreed that the recipes turned out surprisingly well, even becoming the meal served by a NetSuite employee at his Super Bowl party!
What’s Next for Slower Cooking, Faster Meals
Ring and Clark say they learned a lot during the initial pilot – learnings they are eager to share. But before they incorporate what they learned and launch version 2.0 of the program, the team plans to survey participants to see what they thought of the class and how they are using the knowledge now. The real test of how successful the program was, according to Clark, is whether the families are still using the cooking skills they learned.
Once the team has gathered feedback from program participants and incorporated what they learned, Ring and Clark plan to create a playbook – a template for how other offices can run a similar program, from creating a budget to when and how to find and reach out to community partners.
About launching version 2.0 and creating the playbook, Ring says “it’s going to be a lot of work, but most things that are worthwhile are…”. And about the program, Ring says “the program has forged some really good connections in our community.”
About the SuiteImpact Program
The SuiteImpact Program is NetSuite’s hands-on volunteer program that engages our employees around the world with local employee-led volunteer activities and donation drives. SuiteImpact Ambassadors are NetSuite employee volunteers who serve as your local coordinators of SuiteImpact community service events. They are passionate in giving back their time to plan local events at each NetSuite office. For more information on the SuiteImpact program, visit http://www.netsuite.org/hands-on.