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Camden County Library Starts Serving Up Books and Cooks Classes

(Voorhees, N.J.) The Camden County Library System began rolling out its innovative Books and Cooks initiative this month. The initiative is designed to promote food literacy, particularly in communities such as Camden, that are considered ‘food deserts’ by the US Department of Agriculture.

The library won a grant from the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development earlier this year based on its proposal to develop and implement a food literacy program. A centerpiece of the program is a mobile kitchen complemented by a collection of books about nutrition, healthy eating and consumer literacy with iPads and a mobile hotspot available. The kitchen can be transported to any of the library’s eight branches and other locations to demonstrate cooking techniques and recipes, as needed.

Camden County Library Director Linda Devlin explains, “People can become literate in many different ways. Food is both a universal language and a universal need that we can use to advance literacy skills across cultures. The versatility of the mobile kitchen will allow us to reach many parts of the county through our branches and off-site through our partners.”

Camden County Library Director Linda Devlin proudly displays the library’s mobile kitchen unit that is an integral part of its new Books and Cooks food literacy initiative. (Camden County Library Photo: David Lisa)

Currently over thirty classes and workshops are scheduled with more to be planned through May of 2017. They will address audiences with a variety of needs including ESL, basic literacy, nutrition-conscious parents and those seeking to provide healthy meals on a limited budget.

The library is partnering with the Camden County One Stop Career Center to offer a series of six classes at its location on Mt. Ephraim Ave. each Tuesday morning starting with Kitchen Math and Recipe Reading while Literacy Volunteers of Camden County will conduct weekly Healthy Eating classes for ESL speakers at the Voorhees branch of the Camden County Library System every Tuesday, evening at 7 p.m.

“We will use recipes, nutrition labels and supermarket signage to teach literacy, basic math and life skills. Participants can learn how to create nutritious, healthy, tasty meals on a budget,” says Library Director Devlin. She is particularly excited about ‘Cook me a Story ’programs that will use and make a recipe in the course of telling a story to children.

A highlight program, “Reading Labels and Serving Size Surprise” will be presented by Stacey Antine of HealthBarn USA, one of the library’s Books & Cooks partners, on Saturday, Nov. 5 at the Ferry Ave. branch. Antine will offer guidance on how to select natural foods like whole vegetables and fruits versus packaged goods, and then how to interpret nutrition labels on packaged food focused on natural ingredients vs. preservatives and additives. She will also demonstrate how to make a “Harvest Wheat Berry Salad” as an example of a healthy, simple recipe most people could make at home.

Antine is the author of “Appetite for Life:  The Thumbs Up, No Yucks Guide to Getting Your Kid to be a Greater Eater” published by HarperOne.

A supermarket tour at the Price Rite on Mt. Ephraim Ave. in Camden is scheduled for November 12 which will also be conducted  by HealthBarn USA to demonstrate how and where to find the most nutritious food for the best price on a trip to the local supermarket.

Aside from ESL and adult literacy audiences, the Books and Cooks initiative is also offering the general public classes on a variety of food and cooking topics. The Bellmawr branch gave kids ages six to ten the chance to learn about making healthy snacks with the help of Adrienne Olah, the Lawnside ShopRite’s registered dietitian.

In conjunction with its Books and Cooks project, the Camden County Library System is conducting a food drive beginning October 17 that will have clearly marked donation bins at each of library’s eight branches. Donations of non-perishable food items will be collected by designated organizations in the area that each branch serves. The food drive is expected to run through May, 2017.