Taking It to the Next Step

Institute Helps Clients Learn How to Prepare Nutritious Meals

Imagine being a latch-key kid who, upon arriving home from school, is responsible for preparing an afternoon snack for your younger siblings, or for starting dinner for your parents who work until 8 p.m. Picture being a single mother who never had the opportunity to learn safe food handling practices from her mother, or what spices make a dish taste better without depending on salt?

Although the Cleveland County area has some amazing food pantries, without basic food safety and cooking skills, many of the items handed out at local pantries can go to waste. This is where the nonprofit organization Food for Thought Learning Institute comes in.

Through cooking classes and food-safety preparedness lessons, the members of this nonprofit organization reach out to the most vulnerable members of the community and teach them how to make the best use of items found in the kitchen. From learning what to do with a bag of dried beans, to education on how long food can be left out safely, Food For thought staff go above and beyond to work with those most at risk for nutritional deficiencies.

Below, Matt Joplin, Food for Thought Learning Institute director, shares with Cleveland County Lifestyle readers the organization’s mission, its outreach efforts and how the community can help them attain their goals.

When were you founded, and what are some of the details of your founding?

Food for Thought was founded in 2010 by Matt Joplin and Karen Sonntag–two friends with backgrounds in food and cooking–who saw a need that was not being met by the area’s network of food pantries, churches, stores and food banks here in central Oklahoma. They realized that while we do an amazing job in this state giving food to those in need and making sure that everyone has access to groceries, the recipients often may not be familiar with a lot of the ingredients, or may never have been shown how to cook in the first place. Thus, many of the donations go unused, creating a charity gap.

Imagine a school-age child in charge of feeding little brothers and sisters, sitting in class, picturing what may be in the cabinets. All they see are dried beans, cornbread mix and maybe some stewed tomatoes. Unless you know how to use those items, you might not think of those as food at all. Here is where Food for Thought is making a difference.

What is your mission/mission statement?

Food for Thought’s mission is to teach vulnerable members of our community basic kitchen safety, food preparation and nutritional skills needed to overcome the cycle of hunger and poverty in our state.

What area do you serve?

Cleveland County and the Oklahoma City area, though we have taught as far away as Shawnee and McLoud. We serve over 500 clients annually.

Who are your community partners?

Thanks to being a United Way of Norman partner agency, we have many great partners. We also work closely with the Pioneer Library System and the YMCA. These organizations will find the clients they want to reach, and we come in and host hands-on cooking and nutrition classes.

What are your short-term goals?

As a small organization, funding and board development are constant concerns.

Long-term goals?

We hope to expand our base and reach to as many clients and organizations as need.

What can people in the community do to help your organization?

Food for Thought Learning Institute is a 501c3 organization, and as such, all donations are tax-deductible. We are in constant need of funding, but are not very good at asking for it. We’re working on that part!

What items/goods are you most in need of?

We can always use gently used cutting boards, new stirring spoons and spatulas, etc. We use these in our cooking demos and often let clients take them home so that they can start building the tools they need to cook at home.

What are some of your special events, in addition to your day-to-day activities?

We have a yearly partnership with the Pioneer Library System to travel to its regional branches and host cooking classes throughout the summer.

Who are your key players?

Our volunteer staff also serves as our board and includes myself as director and Norman All-Stars Amy Radford and Sunny Hill.