Cook N’ Chat is an innovative, interactive program designed to connect outreach students with local community agencies and supports over food.  

 Cook N’ Chat is part of the Vermilion Wellness Coalition, whose vision is “to embed the value of healthy eating, active living and positive social environments for adults, children, and youth where they live, learn, work, commute and play”.

The Plan

Supported by the AHS Better Together: Strengthening Community Actions Community Capacity Building grant, Cook N’ Chat connected students at the Vermilion Outreach School with staff from a variety of local mental health agencies.  The casual, non-clinical program focused on cooking, clean-up, and sharing of a meal once per week over a five-week time frame.

Students signed up for the program, but attendance fluctuated due to the flexible school schedule and competing commitments. Those that registered came when they could, but the number of participants was never known until the day of cooking, which made food purchasing difficult. Extra food was preserved for future use by participants as well as classmates and staff.

Community partners included Vermilion Is Being Empowered (VIBE) Mental Health Capacity Building (MHCB) program, Vermilion Outreach School, Alberta Health Services (Community Addictions and Mental Health Promotion, Addiction and Mental Health, and Sexual Health), the Family School Liaison Program, and the Mayor of Vermilion (a Dietitian by training).

The project was directed by VIBE who ensured that 2 - 3 partners (mentioned above) attended each session alongside the students.  The five cooking sessions were held at the Edge Youth Centre to expose the students to programming that is available through that facility.

After introducing themselves and providing a short description of services, partners joined the students to help prepare a meal, clean up and finally eat together. During this time, students and professionals struck up informal, but important conversations.  Conversation starters were provided to the partners but were not needed.  Students were curious and sought information without prompts. 

The Outcomes

The program demonstrated the importance of eating meals together and that sharing responsibilities of cooking and cleaning can build connections and relationships. Students were unexpectedly eager to participate and excited to receive a crock pot of their own. Those that had access to a crock pot at home put theirs away to use when they left to attend post-secondary studies. 

 

The next step in this project is cooking with seniors, which will happen in fall 2019.  Additional Vermilion Wellness Coalition initiatives include:

  • Block Party Program (to promote Abundant Communities)
  • Disconnect Boxes (to encourage families to put cell phones down)
  • Nutrition Bench Marking (assessing and building strategies to improve the community’s food environment)
  •  WalkABLE (increasing accessibility)
  • ChooseWell (encouraging healthy choices in the community)

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