“I think everyone should know how to cook. Teaching a person how to cook quick, healthy meals—especially someone who lives in a community with limited food access—can empower them, and that in turn can open a door for them to lots of other things.”
Jilah moved to Nashville shortly after graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design in 1986. She raised two children and spent eight years homeschooling them, during which time she cooked three hot meals a day, seven days a week. “I was always cooking, and found many aspects of that to be challenging,” recalled Jilah. “I was constantly looking for ways to stretch my budget, make the most of my time, and utilize all my resources. And I believe I got quite good at it.”
After her kids left home for college, and Jilah entered a new stage of life, she started seeking opportunities to use her skills, passions, and talents to make a difference in her community and started teaching cooking classes at the Farmer’s Market. That’s when she came across Nashville Rescue Mission and wondered if those transitioning out of homelessness might benefit from these same types of cooking classes.
“When I called the Mission, they told me about their Life Recovery Program, and how many of the graduates move into transitional housing before eventually moving into places of their own. They were exactly the people I wanted to help and knew I could help.”
Over the last several months, Jilah has created a unique community cooking experience for the women.
“These classes bring people from all walks of life together. In addition to the women living in transitional housing, I invite my interns to join us. It’s more than enjoying a meal together. The women learn to cook, which builds their confidence. They interact with one another, which builds community.”
Instead of just telling the women how to cook, Jilah sets up stations, for testing, tasting, and allows each person to get their hands dirty and be a part of preparing the meal. “I try to engage all their senses—sight, smell, taste, and touch. It has a profound impact on them remembering what they’ve learned. Once a woman discovers all the different things she can do, say with a can of beans, she is empowered, which can affect the choices and decisions she makes throughout the rest of her life.”
“I teach the women to read labels and choose whole ingredients. You’d be amazed at what you can do in 20 minutes. You can make soup, a Mexican dish, or lots of other things. It’s much healthier than eating something off a dollar menu or microwave meals. I also show them how to make the most of their time and budget by cooking one-pan meals or making extra for multiple meals.”
While Jilah may not be able to solve the issue of food accessibility, she can teach women who are starting over how to cook. In that, she sees a creative outlet and one that is empowering.
“Volunteering to teach these women has been such a blessing to me,” shared Jilah. “It’s been a joy to see their confidence build through learning new things. It’s also been a wonderful experience to sit down and enjoy the ‘fruits’ of our labor.”
The Mission is so grateful to Jilah and all the volunteers who partner with us by using their unique skills, passions, and talents to bless our guests and program participants.