Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Joys and Concerns

These Johnson County Women are three of the JOYS of our local Community Action Office!

Our local SENCA office has an Outreach Worker, Terri Brethouwer, and she is assisted by her Advisory Board.  I am honored to sit on this board.

On every agenda there is a topic we call "Joys and Concerns" which includes things we feel need some attention.  It may be that we agree that we need new furniture for the entry room.  *We did!  And we are so delighted with the new chairs for the clients to sit in as they wait for the Handi Bus or wait to have an appointment with Terri.  We also agreed that new carpet was in order because the old one was beyond shampooing.  *THAT happened, too!  And we bought locally so that supports our community!  Our Women of Distinction event, an annual program which recognizes the women in Johnson County, NE, is one of our greatest joys.

When it comes to concerns I plan to campaign for repair of the poorly working fluorescent light
above the serving counter/coffee center in the dining room.  It blinks and goes very dim.  Since the area is meant for Seniors to use I feel this is a safety issue.

Another thing that happens at the Center is the Tuesday morning Breakfast Bunch!  The Normanator and I are  always game to wake very early in order to put our toes under the table and meet with our fellow Seniors for the great food Loretta Pope prepares for us and the conversation.  *People in general love to eat and love to visit with others!

The Breakfast Bunch
Lola, The Normanator, Larry, Craig, Wilma, Twila, Gertrude, Mary
*Not pictured:  Eldon, Connie and Kay

Tuesday breakfast is not the only thing Loretta reigns over...she prepares the noon congregate meal for Seniors and she sends many, many take-out meals every noon!  The Meals on Wheels are prepared in her  SENCA kitchen with the regular help of a volunteer, Sharon Snyder.  Our SENCA meal programs run more smoothly because of Mary Sand.  Sometimes Kevin VanLanningham offers his assistance, as well.

Every weekday mid morning a large group of fellows from retirees to professionals to farmers to ministers crowd around the table to solve the world's problems and drink coffee.  It is an institution all on its own and they enjoy one another's company immensely, even when opinions clash!  It's all about guys bonding and debating every issue that comes up!

When our local Advisory Board meets in March I will voice my own personal concerns:  Why don't more people come to share their lunch?  (It only costs $2.75)  How come more people don't come for breakfast on Tuesday mornings?  For that meal, you'll have to pony up $1.25 for the meal and $.25 for a tip for the cook!  Surely that's affordable even for Seniors!

According to their website, SENCA offers a wide range of services that are aimed at the reduction of poverty, the revitalization of low income communities and the empowerment of low income individuals and families to become self sufficient.  The services and activities offered have a measurable and potentially major impact in causes of poverty in the community.  SENCA works with participants to increase and improve their skills, knowledge, and motivations to secure the opportunities needed for them to become self sufficient.  The services and activities offered have a measurable and potentially major impact on causes of poverty in the community. 

Lots of good things happen at our Action Center in Tecumseh, NE:
  • Food Pantry:  The SENCA office and food pantry is located on the East side of the square in Tecumseh.

  • Cooking Classes:  These are offered 4 times a year.  There is no charge for them but attendees need to reserve their space by phoning 402 335 2134.

  • Tax Preparation:  Terri can help with this and can make referrals, as well.

  • Chore Assistance:  For Seniors who live at home but cannot manage cleaning and yard care as they once could, help can be arranged for them. Terri can help you with a referral.

  • Health Insurance Assistance: Special training has been arranged for Terri regarding the ACA.  She is a certified Navigator.

  • Congregate Noon Meals: To reserve your noon meal Monday through Friday, call 402 335 2134 .  The cost is $2.75.

  • Take Out Noon Meals: By calling 402 335 2134 before 9 AM on Monday through Friday you can arrange to pick up your food at the SENCA center.  Those meals cost $3.00.

  • Weatherization: SENCA offers assistance for low income and Seniors to make their homes safer and more comfortable.

  • SENCA Smart: Here is a program to help 8th grade and senior students learn to navigate money management.

  • Family Development: This is a quest to keep anyone-singles or families-from poverty and help them to become successful by learning how to budget their income, manage their spending and save for the future.

  • Poverty Simulation Programs: Students role play real life simulations where they have to work and/or go to school while caring for family members, shop for food, and arrange for transportation as well as apply for loans.  It is a light hearted way of teaching a serious subject with the goal of keeping people from living in poverty.

  • Backpack Program:  To make sure all students have adequate nutrition on the weekend, when school lunch programs are not available, backpacks are filled every week at the SENCA office.
Our local SENCA office also is available for rental.  If a family has a celebration or reunion, they may arrange to rent the facility on weekends, when the building is available.  That is the location of some of our fund raising campaigns, such as the Potato Bake which will be held in April 21 of 2016.

SENCA is having a big birthday on May 2, 2016.  We are half a century old!  Look for festivities to abound as 2016 rolls along.

As you can plainly see, we have far more joys than concerns.  How can it get any better than this?

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Con Can Cook

Mother Connie

Public television carried a wildly popular cooking program long before most of you who are reading this existed.  It featured a charming and talented Asian gentleman named Yan.  He called his show, as you might expect, "Yan Can Cook."  I watched every episode I could.

Because I'm a bit of an imp, I pinched that title and restyled it a bit for the title of this piece:  "Con Can Cook."

Many cooks become foodies because their mother or grandma tutor them in food prep.  The family takes out bragging rights on the stories about culinary successes and failures and they become legendary.  Food and the rituals around it are central to family lore.

My own mother hated to cook.  She was creative and conscientious about getting good meals on the table but she loathed the process.  When I was 10 years old Mom broke her leg and convalesced from the couch for six full months in our living room, which overlooked the kitchen in our basement apartment.

Mom was able to tutor me in the  art and science of meal making from her new perch.  As her fracture mended, she talked me through the process of meal making, which I lapped up eagerly in that miniature kitchen.  My first foray into culinary territory was a menu featuring fried pork chops with cream gravy; canned green beans and "from scratch" biscuits.  I vividly recall chopping iceberg lettuce for our salad and Mom taught me how to make a mayo/vinegar dressing to drizzle over my masterpiece.

Even though I knew precious little about food and what to DO with it, those 6 months of planning, shopping, chopping, stirring and serving  during "Cooking Class With Mom" were unspeakably valuable to me. *I strongly suspect it was meaningful for my mother, as well.

For a high school graduation gift my parents arranged for me to have a series of Culinary Arts lessons from a retired Home Economics teacher who lived nearby.

SIDEBAR: For Millenials and those who were offered no such class, "Home Ec" covered clothing construction, food preparation, child care and floral arranging as well as etiquette and table setting.  END SIDEBAR.

As newlyweds, our kitchen consisted of a 3 burner apartment sized gas range, a base cabinet with a lone drawer and a set of china and cookware from my Hope Chest.  The cooking utensils were hand-me-downs from relatives which I still have and use!

The meals I fixed in those days were pretty much what you'll find in the Better Homes and Gardens or Betty Crocker cookbooks.  Many of our recipes in that time frame came from the Martha Gooch and Kitchen Klatter radio shows.

SIDEBAR:  Yes, we had radios all those years ago and homemaker programming was a staple of the mid morning lineup!  END SIDEBAR.

As our youngsters arrived one by one I had more cooking to do.  I was not a fabulous cook but at least I never cooked eggs in dish washing detergent like Dorothy Dixon did!  Her family of 9 were not fed this disaster but the event prompted the family to buy breakfast cereal by the case so she never had to cook again!  *True Story!

When our family was invited to a Saladmaster Cookware dinner I sat up and took note of all that shiny kitchenware being demonstrated!  It was in the 1970s that I became a demonstrator for the company and found myself preparing meat loaf, chicken, vegetables  and dessert for a dozen people or so two or three times a week!

I took my young daughters with me so they could help with clean up.  They took turns demonstrating kitchen cutlery.  Adorable little girls who are gregarious and verbal can really sell knives!

Everything in my experience has informed me about food--growing it; preparing and serving it; and using it as medicine.  By the time The Normanator and I moved to our retirement home the price of food was rising at an alarming rate.

I was making lunch one day, thinking about how much a gallon of milk set us back.  I recall sticking my head into the fridge as I gathered what I needed to make us our midday meal...I distinctly remember saying aloud, "How on EARTH will FAMILIES ever manage?"

The answer to that question raised another.  "What might I do to help them?"

The solution, as I saw it, was to put up a blog dedicated to users of Public Assistance.  Holders of EBT cards for WIC, SNAP, or people who depend on Food Pantry food or Food Commodities could learn about low cost, densely nutritious meals.  If they had not learned to cook, for whatever reason, we could help with that.

I was warned it would not work.  I was reminded that "poor people don't have internet access" and there was a long list of reasons why it would never happen.  I made a lot of phone calls, chatted with a number of experts, and finally played deaf.  I launched the blog Food Stamps Cooking Club and invited visitors to the website to "join."  When they do join they are sent a series of cooking tips. There is nothing to buy so it really does offer assistance with no strings attached.

NEVER did I envision how my little corner of the internet would impact so many in need.  I have heard from Members who have used the information to help homeless people to cook in California! Members have sent us recipes, stories, tips--I could not have foreseen that I would forge tender bonds with other bloggers or that we would host a French Chef in the Clubhouse!  There are videos on YouTube, I've participated in Cooking Classes at the Action Center  and all this makes Mother Connie feel all warm and gooey inside.

Knowing that Con can cook really made me happy last week.  The Normanator got in on the fun, too...we roasted lots of chicken thighs, de-boned the meat and prepared noodles to pair with the meat to feed a crowd.  This food was prepared for our little town's traditional Lenten Luncheon series.  We did our work to honor the memory of one of our recently departed church members, Delilah Laue, who always gave of herself and did everything she could to prepare food for this yearly event.

Cooking is a joy for me in so many ways.  This very morning I saw one of our Club Members at the convenience store ....We hugged hello and she regaled me with her latest cooking success:  homemade noodles!  Her husband raved about how good they were and how they were just like the noodles his mom always made!  She recalled the cold winter night she had come to the Clubhouse and helped to make a dinner so she could learn how to make gravy and plan for good nutrition on a tight budget.

So I don't know where Yan is these days but I am in hog heaven!  YES.  Con CAN cook!

Connie Baum