BENSON — On the third Friday of every month, the Community Food Pantry of Benson is holding cooking classes at the fellowship hall at Calvary Baptist Church.

Last Friday marked the first class, with Food Pantry President Najayyah Many Horses demonstrating three dishes that featured food distributed from the food pantry. Salmon, spaghetti squash lasagna and an altered ramen noodle side dish, as well as a tossed salad and homemade cookies by pantry volunteer Elaine Jordan, were the menu items for Friday’s class.

The goal is to provide the public with creative, healthy ways to prepare fresh produce, meats, packaged foods and other products the pantry provides.

“My intent is to show different ways to cook with items from the food pantry to encourage people to experiment with spices and sauces to make their food more exciting,” Many Horses said. “I also want them to be creative by combining flavors and foods they may already have at home.”

Every Wednesday the Community Food Pantry of Benson holds a food distribution at the Calvary Baptist Church campus, 2300 W. Calvary Lane.

“There are times when we distribute large quantities of produce like peppers, tomatoes and squash,” Many Horses said. “Because of the quantity, people sometimes feel there is more than they can use. The cooking class is designed to teach them different methods of preparing the same vegetables, adding a new flair to make them more tempting. We also plan to show people how to preserve excess produce they receive.”

Participants will learn how to make special dishes by combining different foods they may not have considered before.

“I love to cook and enjoy sharing what I cook with friends and family,” Many Horses said. “I’m not a nutritionist, but I’ve learned how to cook healthy, balanced meals, which is something I am going to be demonstrating in the classes.”

Once she finished preparing Friday’s meal, the class was treated to samples of everything Many Horses made, along with Jordan’s oatmeal cookie dessert.

“Elaine’s cookies were made with the oatmeal and trail mix we give away at the food pantry, and they’re always a hit,” Many Horses said.

Overall, the class received positive reviews from the attendees.

“The best thing about Najayyah’s cooking is that everything she prepares is so healthy and the flavors are magical,” said Andrea Tuzzolino, one of the class attendees. “Everything she cooks is delicious. She is putting together a program that every community should adopt.”

Mescal resident Michelle Hanna, who described the class as “great and really enjoyable,” said she especially liked learning creative ways to cook things like spaghetti squash. “I got a lot out of the class and will be back again,” she said.

Bonnie Parsons, a J-Six resident, admitted her shortcomings as a cook, but said attended the class because she’s getting married soon and wanted to learn a few pointers.

“This class was good for someone like me, who never cooks and has a lot to learn,” she said. “I liked the way she (Many Horses) presented the class and enjoyed learning how to prepare different recipes. I also liked the no-salt flavoring techniques she uses.”

In future classes, Many Horses plans to bring in guest speakers who will be talking about food and nutrition as well as healthy food choices for people who live with such conditions as diabetes and high blood pressure.

The recipes Many Horses used for the class were tested on her friends.

“I tell them they’re my guinea pigs, but they never seem to mind,” she joked. “They’re always ready to come back for more.”

Benson resident Richard Chacon, who attended the class with his wife, Dolores, represented the only male.

“We get all these vegetables through the food pantry every week, and I was hoping we would learn new ways to cook them,” he said. “She was very thorough on how she presented everything, and my wife and I really enjoyed the class. We will be back.”

Participants were given a folder with recipes, an informational pamphlet about food safety and a handout about healthy food choices.

They also were sent home with a box filled with food items that were used in the cooking demonstration.

“We want to give our participants everything they need to try the recipes at home,” said Many Horses. “People are already asking what we’re planning for the next class. It depends on what we have in the pantry. These classes are all about getting creative with party cooking.”