Volunteer Spotlight: Mary Gisslander

Future Chef Mary      Mary

Then…                                                     … and now!

Tell us a little bit about yourself. 

I have somewhat of an altruistic personality.  I believe in volunteering in the community – such as the American Red Cross and Historic Fort Wayne to name a few.  I believe that everyone, especially seniors, are entitled to the care, dignity, and wellbeing that they deserve.   I am currently employed in the healthcare field in the dietary department.  This was my goal since I decided to leave a “desk job”.  Once I found out that experience was essential, even in a field which I had never worked, I decided to, as they say, “get educated”.

What made you pursue a culinary career?

I wanted to work in the healthcare field (senior living, assisted living, nursing home etc.). I responded to an ad for a cook assistant in 2008.  The only requirement was “able to read a recipe”.  I did not get the job due to inexperience in this type of setting.  So I entered the Culinary Arts Program at Macomb Community College.  I thought receiving the Prep Cook Certification (three classes – Sanitation, Culinary Techniques and Skills Development) would give me at least some experience working in a professional kitchen.  I was interested in the internship program.  I contacted Chef Nader at Ford Field and he agreed.  At this point, I declared Culinary Arts as my major.  Once I did that, completing the program was inevitable.

What is your fondest food memory? 

Cooking with my dad …… was becoming a Chef predetermined?

How did you first get involved with Cooking Matters?

While taking the Culinary Techniques course in 2009, Chef Hollingsworth informed us of Gleaners Community Food Bank which was involved with Cooking Matters.  I contacted Gleaners, attended their training class, completed the background checks, and volunteered for my first class.

What is the best thing about volunteering with us?

Meeting all the participants and learning as much from them as I am able to teach them from what I’ve learned from my formal education.  Life experiences far exceed book learning.

What do you do in your spare time? 

I’ve let a lot of my house chores lapse while continuing my education and now I’m spending as much time as I can getting my house in order.  I was interested in volunteering with the Rising Stars Academy but then I started a new career in the healthcare field. So I have, unfortunately, let my volunteerism lapse temporarily.  Once I get myself in order, I’ll be better able to service others.  I still make time for Cooking Matters because “cooking matters”.  I think getting involved with the meal programs in the schools is also very important.  So much to do, so little time !

Do you have a favorite recipe to share with us?

Prepare some rice. In a sauté pan, cook some diced chicken breast, add the rice, add some chicken stock, then add some kale.

Don’t forget the seasonings……. I experiment with just about anything in my pantry except salt and black pepper !

It’s not really a “recipe” but is very easy to prepare with as many variations as you can think of just by changing the protein, grain, vegetable, and liquid.  More liquid will result in more of a soup like consistency.

Protein – fish, pork, ground sausage, turkey, beef, and even various canned beans.

Grains – rice such as brown, basmati, or jasmine; quinoa, couscous and other pasta.

Vegetables – fresh, frozen or canned.

Liquids – chicken, beef, or vegetable stocks -  low sodium.

As we say in Cooking Matters, adjust any recipe to what you have in your pantry and make it your own.

Mary and congressman conyers

Mary and Congressman Conyers, who visited her last Cooking Matters class!

December 3, 2013 at 3:33 pm Leave a comment

Volunteer Spotlight: Haley Mullins


Tell us a little about yourself.

I graduated from college about five years ago with a degree in business administration.  After graduation, I traveled in Australia and worked in fine dining.  That’s where my love of food really started.  Later, I returned to the states, lived Lake Tahoe for a couple of years bartending at a mountainside resort and ended up moving to St. Louis, MO to be closer to home and help out with family.  I realized that finance wasn’t what I was interested in, so I decided to go back to school to become an R.D.

When did you first become interested in nutrition?

I started eating healthy and working out in St. Louis and really experienced an “ah ha” moment.  I felt better than I had in 5 or 6 years, and realized it was because I was eating natural, unprocessed foods.  I became really curious about the science behind the changes I was feeling.

How did you first start volunteering with Cooking Matters?

I got involved in St. Louis.  A regular at the bar where I was working told me about the program.  I wanted to volunteer in some way related to nutrition or food and not take food and nourishment for granted.  I was also interested in providing a way for people to help themselves when facing food shortages.

Have you noticed any big differences since you moved and started volunteering in Detroit?

Nothing huge.  Everyone has that base level curiosity. Everyone all over the country is looking for the same thing.  They want to eat healthy and feel better.  So many people want to change, they just need to learn how.

What is your favorite thing about being a Cooking Matters volunteer?

For me, it’s seeing the students take in the information one week and come back the next with really awesome, insightful questions.  It’s so amazing to know that they are taking it to the next level.

What’s your favorite vegetable?

Beets.  I love how sweet and versatile they are.

Do you have a recipe that you’d like to share?

Here’s one of my go-to recipes. I LOVE making soup in the winter because you can easily make a ton of it and then freeze the leftovers. When I freeze it, I will freeze it in 2 serving units in plastic bags so I only have to defrost enough for one person when I am ready to eat it again.

Southwest Chicken Soup


1 tablespoon olive oil1 onion, chopped3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 (28 ounce) can canned crushed


1 (14 ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 cup water

1 (10 ounce) package frozen corn

1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chiles

1 (15 ounce) can black beans

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 cups shredded chicken

Optional toppings: crushed tortilla chips,

shredded Monterey Jack cheese, sliced

green onions


1. In a medium stock pot, heat oil over medium heat. Cook   onion and garlic in oil until soft. Stir in chili powder, oregano, tomatoes,   broth, and water. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.
2. Stir in corn, chiles, beans, cilantro, and chicken.   Simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Ladle soup into individual serving bowls. Serve with   optional toppings, if desired.
Recipe adapted from Allrecipes.com

October 21, 2013 at 10:44 am Leave a comment

We’re Going Orange!

Go Orange

September is Hunger Action Month.  To raise awareness about food insecurity in our country, some of our (extremely stylish) volunteers have gone orange for No Kid Hungry.  To find out more about childhood hunger and what you can do about it, visit the action center at nokidhungry. org

September 14, 2013 at 3:41 am Leave a comment

Volunteer Spotlight: Soraya Urech


Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I have been married for 30 years and have 3 children. I was born in a small country in South America called Suriname but am from Lebanese descent and have been living in the States for 30 years. I work for a Food Brokerage Company called Key Impact Sales and Systems as their Registered Dietitian in Sales. I love the outdoors and enjoy trying different foods and working in the food industry.

How did you first become interested in nutrition?

As a teen I struggled with my weight so became interested in eating healthier which led me to look into dietetics.

What led you to Cooking Matters? 

Key Impact Sales & Systems values giving back to its communities hence it provides their employees two days of paid time off per year to volunteer at Feeding America Agencies. When I looked on the website I learned about Cooking Matters and the opportunity to R.D.’s  to volunteer their expertise so I thought that was a perfect fit.

Do you have any favorite hobbies or pastimes?

Too many, I love to garden, go hiking with my dog, practice yoga and to read.

What is the best part about volunteering in Cooking Matters classes?

I enjoy being able to help people to live more healthy lives, and the interaction with the participants.

Do you have a favorite recipe that you would like to share?

This is a recipe that I came across on the website of one of the manufacturers we represent which has a nice ethnic flare to it, and is healthy as well:

You can also view this recipe card on the Campbell’s website.

June 28, 2013 at 12:18 pm Leave a comment

The Farm Bill, SNAP, and You


As Congress weighs in on the Farm Bill-  the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the federal government passed every 5 years- the future of SNAP (and SNAP education) is at stake.

What is SNAP?

SNAP offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities. SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net.  The Food and Nutrition Service works with State agencies, nutrition educators, and neighborhood and faith-based organizations to ensure that those eligible for nutrition assistance can make informed decisions about applying for the program and can access benefits. The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service also works with State partners and the retail community to improve program administration and ensure program the integrity.

What is SNAP education?

The goal of SNAP-Ed is to improve the likelihood that persons eligible for SNAP will make healthy choices within a limited budget and choose active lifestyles consistent with the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate.  The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-296), section 241, established SNAP-Ed as the Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grant Program. The Act calls for SNAP-Ed to include an emphasis on obesity prevention in addition to nutrition education.  Cooking Matters is a SNAP-Ed funded program.

It seems like everybody has their own two cents about SNAP (formerly food stamps) but we like to let the facts speak for themselves.

SNAP: Facts, Myths, and Realities

             SNAP is targeted at the most vulnerable.

  • 76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83% of all SNAP benefits.[i]
  • Recent studies show that 49% of all SNAP participants are children (age 18 or younger), with almost two-thirds of SNAP children living in single-parent households. In total, 76% of SNAP benefits go towards households with children, 16% go to households with disabled persons, and 9% go to households with senior citizens.
  • SNAP eligibility is limited to households with gross income of no more than 130% of the federal poverty guideline, but the majority of households have income well below the maximum: 83% of SNAP households have gross income at or below 100% of the poverty guideline ($19,530 for a family of 3 in 2013), and these households receive about 91% of all benefits. 61% of SNAP households have gross income at or below 75% of the poverty guideline ($14,648 for a family of 3 in 2013).
  • The average SNAP household has a gross monthly income of $744

SNAP is responsive to changes in need, providing needed food assistance as families fall into economic hardship and then transitioning away as their financial situation stabilizes.

  • SNAP participation historically follows unemployment with a slight lag. SNAP participation grew during the recession, responding quickly and effectively to increased need. As the number of unemployed people increased by 94% from 2007 to 2011, SNAP responded with a 70% increase in participation over the same period. 
  • As the economy recovers and people go back to work, SNAP participation and program costs, too, can be expected to decline.

SNAP has a strong record of program integrity.

  • SNAP error rates declined by 57% since FY2000, from 8.91% in FY2000 to a record low of 3.80% in FY2011. The accuracy rate of 96.2% (FY2011) is an all-time program high and is considerably higher than other major benefit programs, for example Medicare fee-for-service (91.5%) or Medicare Advantage Part C (88.6%).
  • Two-thirds of all SNAP payment errors are a result of caseworker error. Nearly one-fifth are underpayments, which occur when eligible participants receive less in benefits than they are eligible to receive.
  • The national rate of food stamp trafficking declined from about 3.8 cents per dollar of benefits redeemed in 1993 to about 1.0 cent per dollar during the years 2006 to 2008.

The need for food assistance is already greater than SNAP can fill.

  • SNAP benefits don’t last most participants the whole month. 90% of SNAP benefits are redeemed by the third week of the month, and 58% of food bank clients currently receiving SNAP benefits turn to food banks for assistance at least 6 months out of the year.
  • The average monthly SNAP benefit per person is $133.85, or less than $1.50 per person, per meal.
  • Only 55% of food insecure individuals are income-eligible for SNAP

source: http://feedingamerica.org/how-we-fight-hunger/programs-and-services/public-assistance-programs/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program/snap-myths-realities.aspx

What Congress is Proposing:

House Ag Committee cuts = Almost $21 billion over 10 years.

These cuts:

  • Limit state SNAP coordination with LIHEAP (heat and eat) payments;
    • 850,000 households, which include 1.7 million people, primarily in 15 states, could lose $90 in SNAP per month;
  • Restrict the state Categorical Eligibility option to change asset and gross income tests ($11.6 billion cut);
    • 1.8 million individuals per year could lose SNAP benefits (CBO);
    • 210,000 low-income children could lose free school meal access.
    • Eliminate state bonuses for effective SNAP operation ($480 million cut).
  • Eliminate state bonuses for effective SNAP operation ($480 million cut).

Senate cut = $4.1 billion over 10 years.

The cut:  Limits state SNAP coordination with LIHEAP (heat and eat) payments.

source: http://frac.org/leg-act-center/farm-bill-2012/

Considering the fact that 49 million Americans are food insecure– 16 million of which are children– the Farm Bill and its impact on SNAP has very real and serious consequences.

Even if politics aren’t your thing, the Farm Bill affects ALL Americans.  We all gotta eat, right?

June 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm Leave a comment

Volunteer Spotlight: Andrea Fraser

Andrea Fraser

Tell us a little about yourself.

Hi! My name is Andrea Fraser. I’m 21 years old, and a full time student. Also a full time mother of two really cute dogs, Winston and Dudley. I’m close to finishing my Associates Degree in Culinary Arts from Oakland Community College. Cooking and baking are my biggest passions, and when I’m not doing that- I’m reading about it! I love to travel. When I graduate, I hope to travel and pick up techniques they just can’t teach you in school!

What made you decide to pursue culinary arts?

When I was in grade school, my grandmother used to watch my sister and I until my parents got home from work. She wasn’t a very big cook, she actually only taught me how to make one thing (apple pie), but she was really great at the next best thing- eating! I loved putting pantry staples together without using recipes. I would usually make pasta or some sort of questionable casserole, and made use out of canned goods and spices. No matter how bad or good it was, she always told me she loved it. Fast forward six or seven years and I’ve moved out of my parents house and I started cooking (for real!) and I haven’t stopped since. I was one semester into a liberal arts degree when I knew it wasn’t for me, so I high-tailed it to the nearest culinary school accepting immediate enrollment!

How did you get involved in Cooking Matters?

I was experiencing huge feelings of uncertainty that day- “How am I going to turn this into a career!?” “Am I good enough at this?!”. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you don’t have a mentor in the industry. Alexa Eisenberg came into my class and introduced the program, and it couldn’t have been better timing. Cooking Matters encompasses everything that I’m passionate about. I’m honored to play a part in it.

What have you enjoyed most about the program so far?

I love how the program is set up. I think it strikes the perfect balance of being informative and fun. By far, the best moment for me was the last lesson with my first group. One of the participants surprised me with the fact that she had been a professional chef for 30 years!. She proceeded to tell myself and the rest of the coordinators how much NEW information and techniques she learned from us, seeing as healthy cooking was new to her. If a classically trained professional chef has something to learn from these classes, EVERYONE does!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love being outside! I’m very active so you can usually find me running, biking, or golfing. I spend a ton of time cooking and entertaining friends and family as well.

Do you have a favorite recipe that you would like to share?

I love any recipe that I can give my own spin to. Lasagna is one of my go-to dishes for cleaning out the vegetable drawer in my refrigerator.

Veggie Lasagna- an adaptation from the “pinch of yum” blog. Enjoy!

Prep time:  10 mins

Cook time:  50 mins

Total time:  1 hour


  • 3 cups chopped veggies of your choice ( I usually use some combination of mushrooms, butternut squash, zucchini, red peppers, or spinach. Don’t forget that your freezer vegetables can come in handy here! Follow directions on package for defrosting)
  • ½ chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or canola oil
  • 1 cup low fat ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 12 uncooked oven-ready whole grain lasagna noodles
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese (part skim), shredded


  • Chop the veggies. Saute the onion and garlic in the oil over medium high heat. Add veggies and saute until tender, reducing heat if necessary. Set aside and let cool.
  • Whisk egg into ricotta cheese
  • Pour a little sauce in the bottom of a greased 9×13 pan. Top with 4 lasagna noodles, 1/2 cup ricotta mixture, ½ of the veggies, and ¾ cup sauce. Repeat; top entire pan with noodles, remaining sauce, and mozzarella cheese.
  • Cover and bake for 40 minutes at 375 degrees. Remove foil and bake for 10 minutes more or until cheese is bubbly.


*If I have zucchini or yellow squash on hand, I carefully slice it lengthwise- very thinly. I replace two layers of the whole grain lasagna noodles with the sliced zucchini.

*You can freeze this, too!

May 21, 2013 at 11:42 pm Leave a comment

National Volunteer Week

You’re awesome.  Did you know?

 In case you haven’t heard that in a while, we are here to remind you.

April 21st-27th is National Volunteer Week.  Although we appreciate the amazing work our volunteers do EVERY day, we want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you.

Whether you have volunteered for 8 classes or you are just being trained, each of you is essential to the success of our program.  When we say, “we couldn’t do this without you”….we really mean it.  Volunteers are at the very heart of Cooking Matters.  YOU have the skills.  YOU are making the difference.  YOU are empowering families and helping fight childhood hunger in America.  We are just here to give you that opportunity.

 So, to sum up…


We know your schedules are tight, and taking the volunteer is yet another commitment on an ever-growing list of to-do’s.  But please, if you have two hours a week to spare, we really need your ongoing help.  Maybe it’s been a while since you volunteered…maybe you have completed your training but are wary about jumping into a class.  Know that we at Gleaners are here to support you.  Shoot Rebecca an email…you know she’s waiting to hear from you!

 So, to sum up…

The capacity of our program is limited by volunteer availability.   In order to help more families, we need your help first.  

We are revving up for a new batch of classes this spring/summer…so keep an eye on the calendar/newsletter for opportunities that work for you.

April 24, 2013 at 12:18 pm Leave a comment

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USDA Statement

This material was partially funded by the State of Michigan with federal funds from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by way of the Michigan Nutrition Network at the Michigan Fitness Foundation. This work is supported in part by the Michigan Department of Human Services, under contract number ADMIN-10-99011. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Michigan Fitness Foundation or the Michigan Department of Human Services. In accordance with Federal law and USDA policy, these institutions are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, political beliefs or disability. To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20250-9410 or call (800) 795-3272 (voice) or (202) 720- 6382 (TTY). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides nutrition assistance to people with low income. It can help you buy nutritious foods for a better diet. To find out more contact the toll free Michigan Food Assistance Program Hotline at (855) ASK-MICH. Space-Limited USDA/DHS/MNN Credit Statement This material was partially funded by the State of Michigan with federal funds from the United States Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by way of the Michigan Nutrition Network at the Michigan Fitness Foundation. These institutions are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, political beliefs or disability. People who need help buying nutritious food for a better diet call the toll free Michigan Food Assistance Program Hotline: (855) ASK-MICH.


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