Spoon and Fork: Combining life skills and socializing

Every second Tuesday, a group of women gathers in the Wellness Room at Women’s Services for a cooking class called Spoon and Fork. It’s an opportunity to learn about cooking and meal planning and to create a sense of community among women who have experienced trauma as a result of abuse, poverty or homelessness.

Wellness facilitator Cathy leads Spoon and Fork, which is open to clients of Martha House and Mary’s Place, as well as to women in the community.

“We make a meal together and then talk about how to make cheap meals, how to cook seasonally, where to find the bargains, when is the best time to shop,” says Cathy. “I’ve demonstrated how to cut up a whole chicken and discussed how many meals you can get out of it rather than buying the boneless breast of chicken, which is expensive.”

Offering an opportunity for social interaction is a key ingredient in the program’s success.

“The social aspect of Spoon and Fork is important, because the women tend to be isolated because of abuse or homelessness,” explains Cathy. “We take a holistic view. It’s not just about shelter or counselling, it’s about the healing process of the whole being – physical, emotional, spiritual, mental.”

Debbie has been coming to Spoon and Fork for four years and says she’s found the experience to be educational and inspiring.

“I have learned to try new ideas, realizing that each dish you prepare is your own creation and that there are no mistakes,” says Debbie. “I now use my own kitchen utensils more than ever before, not to mention the fact that I now make affordable and nutritious meals at home instead of dining out or eating take-out food.”

Spoon and Fork is just one of the programs at Women’s Services that equip women with life skills to help re-establish their independence and rebuild their lives.

“Many of the women we work with have experienced chronic homelessness, they’ve experienced abuse and sometimes with those experiences, life skills erode,” says Yolisa DeJager, director of Good Shepherd Women’s Services. “In a sense, this is inviting women to re-learn these skills to increase their independence and their capabilities. With groups like Spoon and Fork, it’s more than just food or life skills, it’s about increasing independence and building confidence.”

In addition to formal programs like Spoon and Fork, Women’s Services staff work one-on-one with women to help them prepare to transition o permanent housing in the community.

A big part of that preparation is financial literacy. Many women who experience partner violence don’t have control over their finances and need to learn basic skills, such as how to set up a bank account or pay a bill.

“Sometimes the whole picture of running a household financially can be overwhelming. It can be very daunting in terms of managing household bills, household maintenance, purchasing food and daycare costs,” says Yolisa. “This is where our workers come in – to break it down into manageable pieces and help women understand money flowing in, money flowing out, so she gets to a place where she can make empowered decisions about how she is going to use her resources, leading to more sustainable and independent living.”

Helping people live independent, dignified lives is a guiding philosophy at Good Shepherd. Programs and services that prepare people to live independently are offered at all our centres.

“It’s not enough just to meet people’s immediate needs for food and shelter,” says Brother Richard MacPhee, Good Shepherd’s executive director. “As a human services and community health agency, we work with them to ensure they have the skills and resources that they require to enjoy happier, healthier, more stable lives.”