Above: Northside Common Ministries created the Cooking with Cans program to help clients eat healthily with what they have. (Photo by Kelsey Shea)

An average can of corn has around 21 grams of sugar and over 600 mg of sodium, making it more sugary, salty and starchy than its fresh produce counterpart.

Northside Common Ministries’ Food Pantry, who distributes similar canned and preserved food to 950 clients monthly, saw this as a problem which sparked the idea for its innovative Cooking Well with Cans program that just received a $25,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation. 

Cooking Well with Cans is an initiative to help clients learn to cook healthily using items commonly found in the food pantry.

“The low-income community is disproportionately affected by obesity and diabetes — and clients of food pantries even more so,” said Jay Poliziani, director of Northside Common Ministries. “We not only want to ensure we’re feeding the hungry. We also want to be sure we’re helping them eat in a manner that helps them get healthy and stay healthy.” 

NCM plans to bring local nurses, nutritionists and dietitians to create healthy recipes, tips and cooking videos using canned and preserved food often donated to food pantries that will be made available for clients.

“The goal of the program was to come up with ways to help our clients eat healthfully in culturally respectful ways,” said Poliziani. 

NCM is located in the Northside’s California-Kirkbride neighborhood and operates the largest food pantry in the city of Pittsburgh. It relies on local food drives and the Pittsburgh Food Bank rather than government money. In the past year, like other food pantries across the country, NCM has seen about a 30 percent increase of clients in need.

The grant from Walmart Foundation was part of nearly half a million dollars Walmart distributed across the state to fight hunger. Poliziani said representatives from Walmart were particularly impressed by NCM’s proposal and granted them the full amount they requested.

The money will be used to hire a temporary nutrition intern to help develop a program which will encourage local restaurant owners to offer cooking classes and recipes, distribute nutrition information in the pantry, create healthful cooking videos and build an on-site garden that will encourage growing and using fresh produce said Poliziani. 

 “Walmart is unwavering in its commitment to help people live better, healthier lives,” said Nick Bertram, Walmart Regional General Manager for Pennsylvania. “As a company, we operate globally but give back locally, and there is no better way to do that than by providing direct support to the organizations that are working so hard to improve their communities and strengthen their neighbors in need.”

The Cooking with Cans program will kick off on March 24 with a cook off at Bistro Soul where local chefs will compete to create the best brunch using food pantry items.