The free class was offered through HEAL, the Healthy Eating Active Living program sponsored by Parkview Health and the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation.
Parkview and the foundation started the program three years ago to help improve the health of people living in low-income areas of Fort Wayne without easy access to nutritious foods — areas described as food deserts in ZIP codes 46802, 46803, 46806 and 46816.
The HEAL program, which began in 2014, has organized three farmers markets and a community garden to make fresh fruit and vegetables readily available to people in ZIP code areas. People who are participating in the WIC (Women Infants and Children) or state's SNAP food assistance program also can receive double the value of their WIC produce voucher or SNAP voucher when shopping at a HEAL market.
The free cooking classes, which began in 2015, teach people about preventing disease, such as diabetes, by eating a healthier diet and how to cook produce from the farmers market and other foods in a healthy manner, said Sharon Tubbs, HEAL spokeswoman.
The HEAL program offered churches and other organizations in the community grants of as much as $1,000 to host a HEAL cooking class during the summer, and many were eager to participate, Tubbs said.
Interest in the classes jumped to about 300 people at 29 locations this year from about 25 to 30 people at three locations last year, said Laura Dwire, HEAL program manager for the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation.
Based on that interest and growth, the boards of directors at the foundation and Parkview Health are considering whether to extend the three-year HEAL program for an extra year into 2017, Dwire said. She expects the boards to decide by the end of this year.
The class at Come As You Are was designed for eight to 10 people, but the interest was so great they regularly had 15 to 20 women attending, said Yalonda Naylor, who taught the class. Naylor is director of the Transitional Health organization, which is based at Come As You Are, and a certified personal trainer.
"I consider the south side of Fort Wayne a food and wellness desert," Naylor said before Wednesday night's class.
So she and Come As You Are offered a fitness training program in conjunction with the HEAL cooking class, with the women attending a fitness workout before the HEAL class.
During the class, Naylor said she encouraged the women to use farmers markets to add fresh fruit and vegetables to their diets. They also talked about using herbs for seasoning, juicing and making healthy smoothies, and how to cook food without frying it.
In addition, Naylor said she taught the women about freezing and canning food while it is in season for use later. They also discussed how to make healthy choices when you have to use food from the grocery.
The key is not "getting caught," she told the women during the last class, reminding them to have healthy food ready so they aren't tempted to grab a meal at a fast-food restaurant.
The class has made a big difference, said Tracy McCurrie, 46, of Fort Wayne.
Eating produce and healthier foods keeps you full longer, McCurrie said. She often ends the day without eating all of the produce she brought with her for lunch and snacks.
"I have a lot of energy now," she added.
More InformationLast HEAL cooking class
The last "Our HEALing Kitchen" cooking class of this year will be offered in September at the Brookmill Courts apartment complex, 2751 Millbrook Drive. Participation is free. For more information, call Denise Porter-Leathers at 267-9300.