The Everybody Eats Learning Kitchen in downtown Twin Falls may not be St. Luke’s Magic Valley Chef Mark Owsley’s usual workplace, but he seemed to be right at home there recently, serving as chef partner for a free community meal on a Sunday.
Surrounded by a team of volunteers including St. Luke’s Magic Valley team members Makenzie Searle and Farra Siegler, he orchestrated a menu of chicken parmesan with pasta and balsamic-roasted squash.
“I couldn’t ask for a better crew,” said Owsley, pausing for a moment between workstations. “I’m pretty excited about doing this lunch.”
Everybody Eats is a program that addresses food insecurity on sustainable fronts, trying to teach skills for healthy cooking on a budget, as well as addressing food insecurity by offering people access to free healthy meals. It’s part of Everybody House — a Magic Valley nonprofit organization with a mission to create an equitable community space where everyone can feel like they belong and their needs matter.
Searle works as a program coordinator for St. Luke’s Community Health and serves on the Everybody House board.
“I was really intrigued by the mission of Everybody House to not just feed people but feed them healthy food,” Searle said. “My passion is not just feeding people but teaching them how to feed themselves and teaching them how to do that in a healthier way.”
She knew Owsley’s skillset would be perfect for serving as a chef partner.
“I’ve worked with Chef Mark on a couple of projects internally and I just know his passion is really big to support our community,” said Searle. “He’s just a natural in the kitchen, but also a natural teacher, which I’ve found is kind of unique.”
“He’s been doing an amazing job,” said Buddy Gharring, who serves as board chairman for Everybody House. “Every chef partner we’ve brought in really seems to enjoy the atmosphere — working with volunteers, teaching the class and especially having people from the food insecure community who are so excited and thankful to eat this food. … excited to have a meal that’s not only healthy but fun and exciting to eat, not just whatever can be produced the cheapest or the most volume.”
The organization had been running a once-a-month free community meal in 2019 but had to find an alternative during the height of the COVID pandemic. They came up with a creative solution and qualified for a St. Luke’s Magic Valley Community Health Improvement Fund grant.
“We got to partner with our local restaurants that we love partnering with anyway and were able to offer free meal vouchers,” Gharring explained. “But now, in this year, 2023, we’re back to in-person meals all year long.”
The in-person meals are cooked by a guest chef with a team of volunteers in the Everybody Eats Learning Kitchen on the last Sunday of each month in the basement of United Methodist Church (360 Shoshone St. E) in Twin Falls. The meal is served at 1 p.m. and all are welcome.
“St. Luke’s has been an incredible partner for us for a number of years,” Gharring said. “They’re incredibly supportive, they’ve been creative partners in this venture and they’re supportive in more than one way.”
While it was Owsley’s first time cooking for Everybody Eats, it won’t be his last.
“I plan on maybe 3-4 times a year,” Owsley said while serving lunch.
And the broader community partnership with St. Luke’s will continue as well.
“At St. Luke’s, one of our systemwide initiatives is to support nutrition security in our communities and Everybody Eats has been doing that through COVID and even prior to COVID, so they’re really meeting the needs of those who are needing healthy food, and we know the benefits that has for people,” Searle said. “It definitely aligns on many levels, so we’re really happy to support them.”
Kelly Franson is the public relations manager at St. Luke's Magic Valley.