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How Community Centers Evolved to Help Immigrants Adjust to Life in America

Public programs like Edible Alphabet at the Free Library of Philadelphia use cooking classes to teach new skills and celebrate heritage.
Meal prep underway during one of the Edible Alphabet classes at the Culinary Literacy Center.
Meal prep underway during one of the Edible Alphabet classes at the Culinary Literacy Center.Courtesy of the Nationalities Service Center

Last February, twelve women walked into the kitchen on the fourth floor of the central branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. They came from many countries; all were survivors of torture. That day, they were attending a cooking class.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” says Elizabeth Fitzgerald, administrator at the Free Library’s Culinary Literacy Center. She’d been contacted by the Nationalities Service Center, a local organization that helps recent immigrants and refugees settle in after arriving in Philadelphia. The organization asked her to help organize a cooking class for their women’s group.