Emily Bunyan, director of the Knox County Public Library, demonstrates the many uses of the Charlie Cart, a new tool to be used in conjunction with a new grant that will look to teach locals how to make healthy meals using locally-grown fresh ingredients. Photo by Jenny McNeece
Emily Bunyan, director of the Knox County Public Library, demonstrates the many uses of the Charlie Cart, a new tool to be used in conjunction with a new grant that will look to teach locals how to make healthy meals using locally-grown fresh ingredients. Photo by Jenny McNeece
With new equipment in place, and personnel hired early this week, the Knox County Public Library will soon launch its Community Learning Kitchen.

“A lot of libraries across the country are doing food programming now because they see the need,” said KCPL director Emily Bunyan. “But I don’t know of another situation like this in Indiana.”

In April the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity at the Indiana Department of Health announced that KCPL had been awarded a $50,000 grant to help fund programming in the new Community Learning Kitchen, housed inside the Vincennes Fortnightly Club.

Bunyan says the community kitchen will be partnering with the local Purdue Extension office, as well as local garden clubs, to offer various types of nutrition and cooking classes, demonstrations, as well as a ServSafe space, which has been in local demand.

Too, she says, two part-time coordinators have just been hired to provide both in-person, mobile, and streaming content to assist people of all ages with learning about various aspects of nutrition, utilizing specialized curriculum developed by Purdue University.

Thanks to the recent acquisition of a Charlie Cart — an all-in-one kitchen on wheels — personnel can take food and nutrition programming out into the community.

The 600-pound mobile cart, which will fit inside of the KCPL van for transport, is equipped with a small sink, all the necessary utensils and food prep tools found in a standard kitchen, as well as a handful of small appliances, like an induction burner and griddle.

“Going mobile is so popular now because you can meet people where they are,” says Jamie Dugan, coordinator for the city’s Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program and a local grant writer who helped the library secure its $50,000 award for the new program.

Bunyan and Dugan say they envision the Charlie Cart traveling to local schools, assisted living facilities, and the city’s farmer’s market to offer groups demonstrations about how to prepare simple, healthy, affordable meals.

“The primary audience for the program, per the Department of Health grant is SNAP recipients, wherever we may find them,” said Dugan.

Reaching out to those who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, the library’s on-the-go food and wellness educators will keep in mind the importance of food prices, balancing out inclusion of fresh produce alongside affordable and long-lasting pantry staples.

“We were able to argue in our grant application that we have a disparate population of people who don’t have transportation, and we have a large population of people who rely on SNAP and WIC benefits.

“Through this program, the coordinators can show people how to best utilize the food they have to eat healthy meals,” said Dugan.

Both Dugan and Bunyan say they have no doubt that the newly-hired coordinators will produce stellar food programming for the community.

After interviewing a number of candidates for the Community Learning Kitchen coordinator position, KCPL opted to split the duties, hiring two part-time co-coordinators — Sarah Wolfe, former owner and chef of The Farmer’s Daughter in Princeton, and Tiffany Muranaka, a local health and wellness coach.

While each of the coordinators will spend time going out into the community, one of their primary functions will be to create and stream videos from the large kitchen inside the Fortnightly Clubhouse, 421 N. Sixth St.

“It’s how so many people are getting much of their information, so the library is going digital,” said Dugan.

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Bunyan says while it was the public library in Philadelphia that inspired the idea of a community kitchen, the city of Milwaukee has been a great source of inspiration for how they might better utilize social media and streaming content to help support local residents.

“This will kind of be taking us to the next level with our social media,” she said, excited by the prospect of local food and health experts creating and streaming fun and informational videos.

Bunyan says before programming begins later this year, a nutritional advisory board must be formed to oversee the program. Then, staff will work alongside county health officer Dr. Alan Stewart before hosting a wellness kickoff event to be held sometime before the end of September.

Streaming video content, she added, can be expected to begin this fall.

“But I would also like to get to the farmer’s market with the Charlie Cart before the season ends, to offer some little demonstrations using produce from the stands to create recipes on the spot,” said Bunyan.

Though the grant period ends in September 2024, both Bunyan and Dugan say there’s a commitment to continuing the food and wellness programming that they say is essential for the community, and they’re already considering future grant award possibilities and partnerships to ensure the Community Learning Kitchen program is sustainable.

“The equipment is already here now, and more grants could be applied for in the future,” Dugan said, adding that the ultimate, long-term goal is to renovate the old Fortnightly kitchen, transforming it into a commercial kitchen with even bigger opportunities for community members.

“We’re not there year, but give us five years,” she said, smiling.

In addition to this year’s Department of Health grant, staff and board members of KCPL, in October, accepted a $15,000 check from the Knox County Community Foundation to help them begin turning their vision into a reality.

While much of the emphasis will be placed on mobile and social media outreach, the plan also includes input from the health department about how to have a ServSafe kitchen.

ServSafe certification is often considered the gold standard in food safety management and is often required for restaurant managers and servers.

Both the Purdue Extension office and the Natural Gardeners Club wrote letters of support and are two primary partners in the endeavor. Bunyan says the project is also receiving support from the City of Vincennes, the Family Health Center, Good Samaritan, the Knox County Health Department, Daughters of the American Revolution, PACE, the YMCA, and the Vincennes Community School Corp.

Bunyan and Dugan say the Fortnightly’s old kitchen space was once the heart of the clubhouse, having literally been used to “cook through the mortgage.”

Fortnightly members, in 1949, were able to pay off the mortgage for the building after spending years cooking in the kitchen, catering exclusive events.

Now, that kitchen will give back to the community at large, with Bunyan envisioning a day in the not-so-distant future that they can open the doors to the clubhouse to offer community meals.

“Anytime of day we have the people in the library who could use a meal, and they could come right over from the library,” she said, her face glowing at the thought. “I would love that.”
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