Elizabeth Low has grown up watching her mother cook. Seeing her whip up food like bread, stir fry and dumplings for her and her three older brothers inspired her own love of cooking and led her to want to share that love with other kids.
“I just gained so much experience and skills from (learning to cook), once I had the basic skills I could go wild with whatever I’m making, and it’s so fun,” Low said.
The Linn-Mar senior is creating a recipe booklet filled with recipes from local restaurants and her own family as part of the Herbert Hoover Uncommon Student Award, an award given to Iowa high school juniors who pitch unique projects.
Her plan was originally to teach cooking classes to kids at the Marion Youth Coalition, but as the novel coronavirus spread across the United States, she decided to change up her idea while still mixing what she loves with the work she still wanted to do.
Low started a GoFundMe with the goal of raising $1,200, and she has received $1,335 as of Thursday. She also received $600 from restaurant donations.
Ten restaurants have offered recipes for the booklet, and Low and her mother have filled in gaps in certain areas with their own recipes. Zio Johno’s in Marion was one of the first to partner with Low on the project, contributing a recipe for its chef salad and some gift certificates. Store manager Andrew Khairallah said they decided to take a healthier twist on the restaurant’s gondola sandwich because Low emphasized her goal of giving kids healthy recipes to make.
Out of the 17 recipes in the booklet from different restaurants, Low’s favorite is her mother’s very veggie pancakes.
“It doesn’t sound very good. ... It’s not something you would find very appealing as a kid, but my mom made it and it’s really good,” Low said.
Along with recipes, the booklet also contains information on eating healthy and activities for kids to do. Low said a lot of kids don’t have the opportunities to learn firsthand how to cook like she did, so providing them information on how to cook and healthy options to make means a lot to her.
Beyond giving kids some of the tools they need to learn cooking, Low also wanted to help businesses that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Participating restaurants will be advertised in the book.
“The timing is impeccable, especially with everything going on right now,” Khairallah said. “We need to stay together and everybody needs to help each other out as much as we can, so this is great.”
The booklets, along with aprons that Low hopes will motivate kids to get in the kitchen and use the booklet, will be handed out along with lunches provided by Feeding Lunches to Youth, a lunch distribution program in Marion and Cedar Rapids that Low has been volunteering with this summer. Low said she’s already received the aprons and is planning on having the booklets printed by Aug. 10, then they can start distributing. Feeding Lunches to Youth will hand out meals through Aug. 21.
“It will really inspire kids to step out of their comfort zone with trying some new food, learning something new, and potentially doing it with someone like Elizabeth does with her mom,” said Jared Feigenbaum, Feeding Lunches to Youth intern. “It really is an additional motivational step to grow yourself.”
When Low volunteered at Feeding Lunches to Youth locations, she said she could tell that the kids really appreciated the food they were receiving. However, the program can’t provide every meal for them, and it ends when the school year starts. Low’s GoFundMe has exceeded its goal, but she still is taking donations with the hope of printing more books to hand out and maybe even sell. She said she’s heard from some people about possibly selling the books, and she wants to continue the program with proceeds going back to making more books to hand out for free as well. Even with school starting, kids will still only get lunch.
“Kids also have their breakfast and dinner to worry about, and I think that’s something my project can help with,” she said.
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