Sandy Alexander is a hero, just like her husband of 50 years. Ron was a decorated Lieutenant Colonel and helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, however, it was his infectious kindness to others that marks his legacy. Sandy thinks of her charitable work in the same vein. “Ron left me in good shape, so I can afford to go and do for others.” Sandy visits nursing homes and elderly patients at VA (Veterans Administration) Centers with her dog Paigow. To further keep her fulfilled, Sandy volunteers with the Food Bank teaching Cooking Matters.
Cooking Matters is a series of hands-on classes in collaboration with community partners and taught by volunteer nutritionists and chefs. They teach nutrition information, healthy food preparation, and shopping on a limited budget. It empowers low-income families to eat healthier, shop smarter, try new foods, and learn how to make meals they might not have tried on their own.
As a result of her experiences with Ron, Sandy emerged as a perfect candidate to teach Cooking Matters. During his tour in Vietnam, Ron was exposed to Agent Orange. When he was 43 the first of his heart problems, “the widow maker” (complete closure of the left anterior descending (LAD) coronary artery) appeared. After he was airlifted back to Tulsa for treatment, the doctors gave him ten years to survive but it would depend largely on his diet. He lived another 25 years.
One of the reasons Ron was able to live beyond the predictions of the doctors were changes Sandy made to his diet. She took a cooking class on “low fat, no fat” relying mostly on a convection oven to cook without fat. In addition to this experience, Sandy earned several degrees and taught vocational home economics for years.
Sandy has successfully taught all the cohorts that Cooking Matters serves and likes them all, but as she states, “I like working with the veterans.” It helps maintain her connection with Ron and she can relate to them. “I want the students to be very comfortable with me so they will incorporate what I teach. I try and relate to them I’m an ole GI wife and I know what they’re going through, I just want to help.”
One of the student’s in Sandy’s Coffee Bunker class mentioned how much he loves high-fat food items especially those with ham hocks. After the series of classes he indicated he was going to cut back on the amount of fat in his diet. These are exactly the types of outcomes that the volunteers and professionals involved with Cooking Matters want to see. When people make healthy food choices, even on a limited budget, it can make dramatic health improvements.
The classes Sandy teaches at some of the high schools are extremely beneficial, especially for students who receive food from school pantries. They learn healthy cooking of the food they will receive and other food items on a limited budget. Of all the Food Bank’s 720 programs this series can serve people for a lifetime.
If you are interested helping Cooking Matters contact Kassidy Wickersham at 918-936-4566.
Sandy mentioned that as a widow volunteering is a great way to get out, remain active, and feel needed. It helps keep her spirits lifted especially during holidays. If you would like to volunteer with the Food Bank any time of the year contact Teressia Kehr at 918-936-4512.