When two 23-year-old Kansas University graduates, Leah Charles and Hannah Temple, decided to hold free cooking classes for undernourished children, they didn't quite expect it to be so easy to gather most of the necessary funds.
They put the word out, asking for donations to reserve a kitchen and supplies. While waiting for the response, they realized their money was no good for the commercial kitchen they tried to rent from the Douglas County Fairgrounds. Charles, an AmeriCorps member stationed at Just Food, and Temple, another member placed at Kennedy Elementary, were told those affiliated with nonprofits and elementary schools can have it for free.
Meanwhile, donations kept on coming.
Now, what originated as a seven-class, once-per-month, one-time-only cooking course is now morphing into a five-class weekly course that will be offered three to five times from November until July 2014.
"The response that we got… was awesome," Charles said. "Because the (kitchen) fee was waived and the response was so fantastic, we've actually changed our minds about only doing the class one time.
"We can reach a lot more people that way and with these funds, have the capacity to do so."
The first round of classes, hosted by Charles and Temple themselves, is set for Nov. 5, with each period lasting an hour and a half. Their syllabus — aimed at all kids aged 7-12, with parents strongly encouraged to attend — focuses on healthy, low-cost foods and other basics of cooking, such as reading labels, etiquette and safety.
"We don't want a class where we're just teaching them how to make macaroni and cheese and have them not know why we made it or why it's better than whatever," Temple said.
As members of AmeriCorps, a federal government community service program, Charles and Temple are tasked with providing health-oriented services at their assigned locations. The cooking class idea came from a meeting Temple had with Kennedy Elementary Principal Cris Anderson, who suggested Temple find ways to engage students in and outside normal school hours.
According to 2011-12 data from the Kansas State Department of Education, about 71 percent of Kennedy's student body is economically disadvantaged. With this in mind, Temple approached Charles, who Temple remembered from a class at KU and an AmeriCorps meeting.
Together, they sought advice for the course, consulting with Viv Hammond, a wellness consultant, and Connie Detweiler, a family nutrition educator at K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County.
Anderson said the classes have the potential to leave an imprint on participating children.
"When you have kiddos who go to the store and know what to look for, being able to cook and prepare, knowing about the foods they're eating, I think that's a skill that could potentially change their life," she said.
The funds gathered already are enough to subsidize their first five classes, Charles said. The two are no longer seeking donations from the public, though they have applied for a grant from the Kansas Nutritional Council. They are also looking for additional volunteers to help run the class.
Each course has room for 20 kids, and any prospective students should email Temple at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up.