Andrea Cook

Andrea Cook has built her life around good food. She works at a food pantry in suburban Des Moines and enjoys reading cook books.

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Some things are just meant to be.

Andrea Cook came from a family where food was central to life. She became fascinated with cooking and began reading cookbooks for fun. She married a man named Cook. She got a job in a food bank.

“My mom was half Italian and half Mexican,” she says. “Everything we did revolved around food.”

That never really changed. After graduating from high school and getting a degree in political science and Spanish at Creighton University, she married and soon began a family, working part-time at Catholic Charities of Des Moines. Once the kids were old enough to attend school she began work at the Central Iowa Shelter before becoming the only employee at Johnston Partnership, which provides food pantry services to part of the suburban Des Moines area.

She said her work is often about providing some type of food, any type of food, for those who have too little. Pantry programs include a backpack program for students.

“I’m very lucky to do what I do,” she says. “I feel like I’m making some kind of a difference.”

At home, food is also a central part of the family life with her husband, Barry, and their three children, Isabella, Gabe and Mitchell. Sometimes that translates into family favorites for holidays or special events. Sometimes it shows itself in meals aimed at appealing to varying tastes. Sometimes it shows itself in new recipes culled from pleasant hours curled up with a good book – which just might be a cookbook.

“I love cookbooks,” she says. “I check cookbooks out of the library.”

And the ideas are always fun to try, she says. While recipes are sometimes defined by what is in the cupboard, baking bread and other items is usually part of the routine. She bakes bread from scratch and calls the effort her stress reliever.

She also uses items taken from the big garden on her husband’s family’s farm or from their garden in the backyard in town.

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Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.