Meet Rachel Firestone – a Cooking Matters instructor who took her volunteer role to the next level with the help of her generous network.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. My name is Rachel Firestone; I’m from Pittsburgh and grew up in Squirrel Hill and went to Allderdice High School. I returned to Pittsburgh in 2014 with my husband, two boys, and now a new puppy, after several years in the San Francisco Bay Area focusing on web development and technology. I have also trained and worked as a Pastry Chef for a James Beard award-winning restaurant and several others. Currently, I’m a co-Chair of Women’s Philanthropy with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and an Advisory Board member of Repair the World: Pittsburgh.
Why and how did you get involved with Cooking Matters? I first got involved in 412 Food Rescue through my involvement with Repair the World: Pittsburgh. I started doing a regular rescue with 412 Food Rescue and then learned about the training program to be a culinary instructor with Cooking Matters. I’ve taught cooking in the past, and thought of no better way to give my time and experience to others. It was a natural fit for me, because of my love of cooking and I wanted to help individuals and families who have food insecurity with the tools to cook healthy meals for themselves.
What has your experience been at CHS? Working with CHS was an eye opening experience. The residents of CHS have unique needs and had varying levels of cooking experience. The course gave them an opportunity to engage with other residents, find joy in cooking, and build the confidence and skills to cook for themselves, when many of them were having microwave meals.
What compelled you to further your involvement in this organization and with the participants we serve? To me, the population that CHS services is a forgotten population. What I mean by that, is that many of us don’t recognize what it means to rely on community services for basic needs such as housing, support to get back on our feet, and not being able to live with our families, and unless we have direct exposure to this population, most of us don’t understand their circumstances and what it is like to be in that position. Our class took place from October to December, and while the class was going on, it occurred to me that many of these residents would be alone for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was important to me, as the holiday season came around, to give these folks some holiday cheer, so I asked some friends on Facebook if they would be willing to chip in $10 to get the residents a catered meal from Whole Foods for Thanksgiving. I was blown away by the generosity of my friends, and I raised over $900 in 48 hours, enough for three holiday meals for the residents of CHS – Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas Dinner, and a special holiday in the future.
My new course with Cooking Matters is at the Pitt Pantry. This population has a more advanced skill-set, but just needs a little push with creativity and confidence. In our first lesson, we talked about chopping, mincing, and dicing for the purposes of making Turkey Chili. It was very fun to see the students want to try these techniques. Cooking Matters is so amazing because it spreads the message that eating healthfully is accessible, it’s uncomplicated, and it does not have to be expensive.
If you could give someone one reason to get involved with our food education programs, what would it be? There is hardly a more rewarding gift than watching someone develop a new skill that will serve themselves and their families for a lifetime. The impact can be exponential. In addition, the kitchen is the heart of a home, and being able to help others cook, and build relationships and memories, is such a small thing a person to do to have a tremendous impact on the quality of someone else’s life.