Free and open to anyone in the county, the goal of the cooking classes are to better educate residents not just about what are healthy food choices but also the practicalities of preparation, to better limit reliance on pre-made meals, dining out and fast food.

At 960 square feet, it’s a kitchen that manages to fulfill big dreams. Outfitted with islands and prep tables, a freezer/refrigerator, crockpots and microwaves and wood cabinets, it’s like any good home kitchen just a little bigger.

The new kitchen at the Food for Morgan County community pantry is readying to open. And the Morgan County resource center located in downtown Versailles has expanded again to help support a healthier Morgan County community.

F4MC is opening this community kitchen to offer cooking classes. The program is being accomplished in conjunction with West Central Community Action Agency, University of Missouri Extension, the Morgan County Health Department and Healthier Schools, Healthier Communities.

The non-profit pantry will celebrate its new service with an open house from 4-7 p.m. Thursday, August 23, 2018. According to F4MC Board President John Wagner, the kitchen and cooking classes have been part of the community food pantry’s dream since the organization’s inception in 2011.

Free and open to anyone in the county, the goal of the cooking classes are to better educate residents not just about what are healthy food choices but also the practicalities of preparation, to better limit reliance on pre-made meals, dining out and fast food.

Home-cooking doesn’t have to be that difficult and is cheaper than other options. With less emphasis on home economics in schools these days, not everyone knows how to manage that though, especially in busy workaday living.

The hope is that these classes will help close that knowledge gap for those in need. There’s even the potential for canning classes in the future, according to Wagner.

The kitchen is one part of a larger 17,411-square-foot facility that has housed the pantry for the last year now. The old Gerbes building, or more recently Bill’s Surplus, at 305 W. Newton Street is now seeing an average of 485 households each month, people in need of a helping hand to get through the month. That’s more than 1,400 individuals.

This year in total, the pantry has served 880 different households, as people come and go, in and out of hard times.

That’s significant growth since opening at the new location, previously having scattered facilities to serve the public once a month at the Family Worship Center in Versailles. Distribution was formerly around 270 household per month, according to Wagner.

The Family Worship Center was a great way to get started, said Wagner, and Bill and Bonnie Holladay’s generous support in selling them the current building has helped F4MC take another step forward in serving the community.

“It’s been a huge blessing for the community,” said Wagner. He attributes the increase to a more visible location and increased days of service, an ability that was limited previously. The center now holds food distribution four times each month with the next one on August 16 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

The pantry is set up like a grocery store so that residents can pick out what they want within general categories in food and hygiene and paper products. In addition to food from The Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri, local stores including Walmart, Sunshine Market, G2M, Dollar General and CVS donate items as well as businesses like Cargill and egg and meat farmers. Many donations also come from local churches, schools, post office, the library and civic and social clubs. The Morgan County Senior Tax Board also supports the agency through grant funding.

More than 100 volunteers help get things done over the year with at least 30 actively working each month, some of whom also use the pantry from time to time.

But the building is not “just” a pantry, other community resource agencies now office in this location, providing a central location to better connect people to the help they need.