Town leaders and a gaggle of hungry children celebrated the opening of Fuquay-Varina’s community kitchen early Friday afternoon with a giant pair of gold scissors and a batch of fresh strawberry pancakes.
The new facility, built during earlier this year in the town’s community center on South Main Street, will offer cooking classes and other health programming for the town’s children. And for at least the next three years, that will come at no cost to the town, thanks to a roughly $70,000-per-year grant from the John Rex Endowment, a nonprofit that focuses on youth health in Wake County.
The walls are painted to match the town’s blue-and-yellow color scheme and is stocked with new stainless-steel appliances.
“There are no other kitchens in the county I’m aware of that offer free education programming for children,” said Jonathan Cox, Fuquay-Varina’s director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources. “We’ll also be trying to establish some relationships with Wake Tech and their culinary school to offer additional classes.”
The town contributed about a third of the $100,000 needed to design and build the kitchen, which is a little smaller than a standard elementary school classroom. It once housed storage space and a much smaller kitchen, which Cox said amounted to little more than a break room.
After the ribbon-cutting, the new kitchen swung into action right away.
Jenny Pettus, who is managing the town’s Growers Market this season, taught 12 young children how to wash their hands, cut strawberries and flip pancakes while discussing the health benefits of a fruit-filled diet. The Growers Market has a contract with the town, funded by the grant, to provide educational programming in the kitchen.
“You have to start at a young age today,” Mayor John Byrne said. “If you don’t, we get so accustomed to the fast foods or doing it the easy way.”
McAllister Myhra, director of operations for the John Rex Endowment, said the town was awarded a three-year grant for $210,000 in 2014. Fuquay-Varina is one of six Wake County municipalities to receive grants from the Endowment during that cycle, which totaled more than $1.25 million, according to the Endowment.
Byrne connected the new kitchen to several other policy choices the town has made, he said, in the interest of improving residents’ health. New sidewalks and park improvements are meant to centralize the town experience and make it easy for residents to enjoy themselves downtown without the aid of a car, he said.
The mayor was joined by most of the town board of commissioners, several town staff members, the police chief and representatives from the Growers Market. Myhra said that kind of united front is necessary for the kitchen and its programming to enjoy any large-scale success.
“A lot of people say better health is an individual choice, but we believe in systems change and policy change on a larger scale,” she said. “People have to come together, and these people have. The town is behind it – it’s a huge partnership.”
A variety of weekly courses – such as healthy living, cooking and gardening – are available this summer through the town for children and teens, which are listed on the town’s website and in the May-August 2016 program brochure. The community center is at 820 S. Main St.
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan