Powelton Village: Cooking and Learning at Drexel University’s Dornsife Center

On the first night of June, residents from Powelton Village and Mantua attended a cooking class at Drexel University’s Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, at Dornsife’s Community Wellness Hub.

The cooking instruction was led by Alyssa Kalter, an educator for EAT.RIGHT.NOW., the official nutrition education program of the School District of Philadelphia. The program is funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services as part of the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“One goal is to simply show we can find good and affordable food that is relatively easy to buy and prepare,” Kalter said. “We also want to have discussions about what goes into our decisions when eating. Are we eating because we are hungry, anxious or out of habit? There are a lot of things to cover, but being mindful of what we’re eating and why we are eating is a helpful place to start.”

Dr. Loretta Sweet Jemmott, vice president of health and healthy equity at Drexel University, has been leading the Hub’s initiative to recognize and address health and wellness concerns within the Promise Zone in West Philadelphia.

A simple and effective element of Jemmott’s strategy is listening to actual voices from the communities. After fielding conversations from more than 500 members of the surrounding neighborhoods over the past year via a series of focus groups and town halls, Jemmott and her team are now deploying initiatives as a response to the concerns of these populations.

“One of several key issues raised by residents in Mantua was access to quality nutrition and learning more about making these important daily decisions with food,“ Jemmott said. “We have these cooking classes as an interactive resource.”

Amid students dicing avocados, Kalter sautéed rice and beans with health-conscious burritos and fresh guacamole on the menu. Throughout the 90-minute session, Kalter and participants in the class discussed a wide range of health and dietary topics, such as understanding how to read nutritional packaging and deciphering portion control.

“We need to talk about what we eat and continue to learn how to find balance and enjoy what we cook and eat,” Kalter said.

“I really enjoyed learning how to cook healthy food that my family will actually eat,” said Valda Brown, a Mantua resident and regular participant in activities at the Wellness Hub. “Seeing it done really helps me believe I can do that too.”

Over the next several weeks there will be two more cooking classes at the Dornsife Center, which is located at 3509 Spring Garden Street, on June 15 and June 29. For more information, call 215-571-3241 or email the Community Wellness Hub.

-Text, images and video by Jim McCormick.

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