Split peas, pistachios and garbanzo beans — food pantry gets creative in sharing recipes

·3 min read
Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas volunteer Pam Rooks points out the display case mounted just outside the pantry entry at its Topeka office. The case shows recipes available for clients.
Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas volunteer Pam Rooks points out the display case mounted just outside the pantry entry at its Topeka office. The case shows recipes available for clients.

Needy clients of the Catholic Charities office in Topeka often seemed confused when its food pantry offered them unfamiliar foods.

Those would include split peas, pork loin, pistachios and garbanzo beans, said Catholic Charities volunteer Pam Rooks. They were among the healthy, government-issued commodities the office distributes.

Some clients had "no idea" what to do with them, Rooks told The Capital-Journal.

She feared many of those foods would go uneaten — so she set out to help ensure that they were not discarded but enjoyed.

Recipes have been a big hit

Pam Rooks smiles as she looks over food items available for the needy Thursday in the pantry at the office of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, 234 S. Kansas Ave.
Pam Rooks smiles as she looks over food items available for the needy Thursday in the pantry at the office of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, 234 S. Kansas Ave.

Rooks started volunteering in 2019 with Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas.

She said she learned that more than a few of its clients were unfamiliar with some of the healthy foods they were being offered through The Emergency Food Assistance Program, a federal program that serves people who meet low-income guidelines.

So Rooks went online and found recipes highlighting some of the foods that weren't being taken, then began handing out those recipes in an effort to encourage clients to give the foods a chance.

She found recipes for tasty dishes that include pulled pork tamale casserole, split pea soup, chickpea and pistachio soup, and zesty garbanzo beans with pistachios.

Those recipes proved to be a big hit.

And then the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Office made changes

Barbara Franklin, an employee with Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, stocks bread Wednesday morning.
Barbara Franklin, an employee with Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, stocks bread Wednesday morning.

Rooks was temporarily sent home in March 2020 and wasn't able to come back until summer 2021.

By that time, Anna Feldt had taken a job as an administrative support specialist with Catholic Charities' Topeka office.

Feldt was also distributing recipes, for the same types of foods.

The local Catholic Charities office had done away with its previous arrangement through which clients in the commodities program could opt out of receiving a certain food item, Feldt said.

Those clients — of which there are more than 500 each month — must now accept them all, she said.

Displays shows mouth-watering photos

Volunteer Pam Rooks, left, and Anna Feldt, administrative support specialist for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, pack a box of food items specific to The Emergency Food Assistance Program on Thursday.
Volunteer Pam Rooks, left, and Anna Feldt, administrative support specialist for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, pack a box of food items specific to The Emergency Food Assistance Program on Thursday.

Rooks and Feldt have arranged it so those clients can now find printed recipes for various dishes in a plastic display case mounted just outside the entry to the pantry at the Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas office at 324 S. Kansas Ave.

The displays features mouth-watering, full-color photos of the finished meals.

One of the most popular recipes is for making "hand-held chicken pot pies," which can be cooked using chicken made available through TEFAP, Rooks said.

Catholic Charities' clients can acquire other ingredients for those pot pies — such as crescent rolls, which can be folded over to help make them — through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, in which many of them also take part, she said.

Catholic Charities won't have to move

Cans of various types of beans are labeled with protein signage to help guide clients at Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas to make informed decisions based on nutritional information.
Cans of various types of beans are labeled with protein signage to help guide clients at Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas to make informed decisions based on nutritional information.

Rooks said she enjoys volunteering at Catholic Charities, and encourages others to do the same. Its office in Topeka can be reached by calling 785-233-6300.

Fortunately, Feldt said, Catholic Charities won't need to move its office because of the upcoming project to rebuild and realign the nearby Polk-Quincy Viaduct.

Let's Help at 200 S. Kansas Ave. and the Topeka office at 215 S.E. Quincy for Harvesters, the Community Food Network, will need to move because their buildings are in the future path of the realigned viaduct. But the Catholic Charities building is not.

Tim Hrenchir can be reached at threnchir@gannett.com or 785-213-5934.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Topeka's Catholic Charities encourages clients to try unfamiliar foods