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Aug14ThuA learning and fellowship program helps single mothers better provide for their families. August 14, 2014 by Kristin Ostensen
When Judy Young arrives at The Salvation Army's social services offices in Corner Brook, N.L., on a Wednesday morning, the smell of chocolate chip muffins fills the hallways. It's nearly 10 a.m., and Young is one of several young mothers gathered for Fresh. The still-warm ovens heat the brightly coloured room where the women meet, a welcoming atmosphere that immediately puts her at ease.
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“I feel accepted and loved here,” Young smiles. “I feel like it's my home.”
Fresh is a learning and fellowship program for single mothers that is co-ordinated by Jane Ash, community ministries worker, who also supervises the food bank. Working with many mothers who were raising children on their own, Ash found that the women wanted to provide better food for their families, but lacked the resources and know-how to do so.
“A family of one to four can get a loaf of bread at the food bank or a bag of flour and yeast,” Ash explains. “The reality is that with flour and yeast you can make five loaves of bread. So a lot of the moms were saying to me, 'If I knew how to make bread, I would take the flour and yeast.' ”
With a good-sized kitchen and eating area, the social services centre was just the right venue for a cooking program. Thirty-five loaf pans were donated so that the participants could make bread at home, after they learned how, and the Fresh program was born.
“We called it 'Fresh' as in fresh ideas—fresh homemade bread, fresh healthy snacks for school, fresh fruit for the moms every week, and more,” Ash explains.
Baking bread is at the heart of Fresh, but the program also teaches life skills such as budgeting, nutrition, stress management and parenting strategies. Crafting activities give the women opportunities to be creative, showing them how to make low-cost scarves, jewelry and cards.
“I Can Be Myself”
A mother of children aged nine and 13, Young has been a client at the food bank for the past year. When Ash invited her to join Fresh last fall, she initially saw it as an opportunity to meet new people.
“I used to be an outgoing person, but because of past relationships, I've become quiet and withdrawn,” she says. “I thought Fresh would help me get out of my shell.”
The program is kept small—eight participants are registered for each eight-week session—so that the women can build strong relationships with each other and with the program facilitators.
Coming to Fresh has given Young a reason to get out of the house and the rut she had fallen into.
“I love the people here,” Young says. “I find that when I'm here, I can be myself, and I like it.”
One of the highlights of the program for Young has been learning to make jewelry: this spring, she made a pink-beaded necklace and a pair of matching earrings.
“I gave it to my mom before Mother's Day,” she shares. “It was so special.”
But her proudest accomplishment has been making bread—first at Fresh and then on her own at home.
“Each time, my bread turned out great,” Young says. “Most of my life I could never accomplish anything because I was always put down. So when I made bread, it was like, 'I did that!' ”
Baking With Purpose
While some participants are new to baking, others, such as Krista Hynes, are expanding their skills. For Hynes, who dreams of one day becoming a chef, Fresh provides an outlet for her lifelong passion for food.
“I love to bake,” she says. “I did a lot of baking while I was in school with a teacher of mine. We would bake cookies and then sell them.”
Now, when Hynes makes cookies at Fresh, she sets aside a package for her children, who are currently living in foster care. It's a simple action that helps her to maintain her relationship with them while they are away from home.
Baking for others makes the experience at Fresh that much more meaningful for her.
“One time, a man came in to social services and wanted to know if the food bank was open, but it wasn't,” Hynes shares. “Fortunately, we were baking bread that day. I asked him if he'd like something to eat. I gave him a loaf and they gave him some tea bags so he could have a cup of tea and a slice of bread.
“When there's someone that you can help, you help out as much as you can,” she adds. “I love doing it.”
Many of the moms who participate in Fresh are also involved with the Army's food bank, soup kitchen and thrift store, which share the social services building.
“We want all of our programs to be working together,” says Ash. “So when we meet with clients at the food bank, for example, it's more than just giving out food. It's about talking to them and finding out what their concerns are.”
As well as teaching practical skills, each session of Fresh includes a devotional time. For the past year, the women have been looking at the Book of Proverbs.
“They're very open to spiritual things and wanting to learn, though most of the moms do not attend a church,” says Ash. “Every week we try to integrate the spiritual aspect because that's what we're all about—reaching people for Christ.”
For Young, who was raised a Christian, Fresh has given her an opportunity to strengthen her faith.
“I was married to somebody who was always controlling and yelling at me so I kind of got distant from the church,” she says, “but I never lost my faith in God.
“Coming here is like going to church,” Young continues. “They don't judge; they accept me. I love them all.”