When Emma Harcourt and her daughters Clare and Zoe, participated in Cook4Good during the July School holidays, the rewards were even greater than they could have imagined. While Cook4Good for the October holidays is now sold out, you can still sign up for our other holiday programs. Check out all details here http://kidsgivingback.org/school-holiday-programs/

Emma shares their experience with us: “I’m going to start with a confession – my kids are not angels, they didn’t ask me to book us into a morning workshop cooking for the homeless with Kids Giving Back; that was all me. In fact my two primary school aged daughters grumbled as I bundled them into the car. It was school holidays after all, and I was making them give up a precious morning to chop vegetables with strangers!

But chop veggies they did and so much more. Kids Giving Back is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to create the next generation of generosity by connecting kids and community through experiences like Cook4Good which I had signed us up for.

The morning was held at the Big Kitchen premises in Bondi, where we were tasked with cooking over 400 meals for homeless living in shelters and individuals in need of support. The courtyard quickly filled with the children volunteers and their responsible adults.

First off, we heard from the program manager who spoke to the children honestly and compassionately about homelessness and how the food we were cooking that morning would go straight to the shelters and to the people who were hungry. We were there to help others less fortunate, not to make ourselves feel good. I saw my girls straighten a little in their chairs. Then a Kids Giving Back Youth Ambassador explained his own experience of homelessness and how it motivated him to join this amazing organisation. By now my two kids were listening intently.

By the time we had made the bread rolls and were deep in a mountain of carrots and onions, both my girls were competing to see who could peel faster. There was an atmosphere of purpose and camaraderie amongst the assembled group. We stood around a square, stainless steel table in the industrial kitchen, and as fast as we peeled and cut, the bowls of vegetables were whisked off to be added to the lentil stew or soup being prepared by the professional chefs.

We stopped to wipe our onion tears, and there was much discussion about chopping techniques. An older couple opposite us had it down pat: they methodically chopped and diced perfectly tiny squares of pumpkin. Their grandson stood beside them, slicing tomatoes. The trio worked as a team, sharing the vegetable bowl with unspoken agreement. The couple talked quietly together, leaning in close as they worked. Cooking and love, I thought, and smiled at the grandmother before my attention was taken by one of my girls asking if her potato chunks were small enough. We worked together, and it could have been at a large family gathering, where cooking and love shared the floor.

We spent a good two hours cutting up vegetables and the whole morning lasted around four hours. Not once did my girls complain that they were bored or tired. The children all rushed from one cooking station to the next, keen as mustard to find a spot and begin working.

But the highlight of the experience for me, as a parent, and for my girls, came at the end of the morning. Once we had packaged the soup and stews into individual plastic containers for delivery we were given the details of the shelter where the food would be going.

The rewarding and clever thing about this programme is that you deliver the food. So you experience the full process from preparation to delivery, and that’s where the impact happened for us.

My girls loaded up a pallet with 45 individual meals which we then delivered to a Surry Hills shelter for young homeless adults. We met the manager, took the food into the dining room and had the privilege of meeting a few of the residents who just happened to be hanging out. We were only there for about 15 minutes but I saw the way my children reacted to the experience. I saw the shift in their self-worth, when they carried the food in and accepted the thanks of the manager. I felt their sense of pride at having finished a job, and done it well. They were quiet and respectful: this was giving them a view into the reality of homelessness and poverty in their own city.

“I want to do this again,” they both said as we walked back to our car and that was enough for me.

Kids Giving Back says that through volunteering young people have the chance to develop empathy and resilience and are guided toward leading a purposeful life. My girls may be back doing their usual things like computer time, netball, or tv, but next school holidays, we’ll be taking part in another community experience with Kids Giving Back and this time, they’re the ones pushing for it.”

Emma Harcourt recently published her first book The Shanghai Wife  You can read about Emma’s work here https://www.emmaharcourt.com/