The Wellness Kitchen, 1255 Las Table Road in Templeton, has been helping people treat illness through food. The nonprofit not only provided gluten-free and dairy-free therapeutic foods, but also provides education for prevention and continued wellness.

Since its beginning in 2010, The Wellness Kitchen has grown from a new for-profit business to an expanding nonprofit.

“I started The Wellness Kitchen in memory of my dad, a firefighter who lost his battle to cancer at a young age of 49 and in honor of my Mom—a two-time cancer survivor and diabetic—thriving, beautiful and turning 84 this year,” founder and executive director Nancy Walker said.

Walker transitioned The Wellness Kitchen from an LLC to a 501(c) 3 in August 2011. She said she changed it from a for-profit business to a non- profit organization because of her “desire to help more people in need, who didn’t have the financial support or caregiver support to prepare their own nutrient-rich, clean meals. Everyone should be able to learn ‘tools’ so they may continue their healing journey.”

As a nonprofit, Walker said she was able to apply for grants and funding for such programs.

“We are researching in depth right now, looking for funding for our teen programs as well as our diabetes and weight management programs,” she said.

The most recent growth has been Walker stepping aside as executive director so she could focus on education.

The change has been a couple of years coming, Walker said.

“I kept thinking, ‘this needs to go to the next step,’” she said. “I knew my skills were not in the fundraising and getting us in the public eye. I’d rather be in the kitchen.”

Gena Grieb began as the nonprofit’s executive director on May 28, Memorial Day. “I’ve always enjoyed working for nonprofits because [I want] to make a difference,” Grieb said.

Once Grieb has been fully transitioned to executive director, the kitchen is where Walker will be. Her new title is founder, visionary and therapeutic chef.

“Knowing I need to step aside, I wanted to bring in someone strong and a strong board,” Walker said.

Grieb is getting settled in and jumping into fundraising and marketing the nonprofit that many people have not heard about.

“It’s not difficult for me [to promote the Wellness Kitchen] because I emphasize the importance of what we do,” Grieb said. “This is how we’re making a difference in [people’s] lives.”

Walker is a trained chef, having attended The Arts Institute of Phoenix and then Bauman College, which focuses on teaching holistic nutrition and culinary arts. At Bauman College, Walker learned how to cook with love and healing intention and how important sunshine, water and dirt are to the food people eat.

While The Wellness Kitchen already offers a wide range of education, Walker wants to continue to expand it and she is already working on a diabetes educational program, where there will be a half-hour planning lesson and the rest of the time will be spent in the kitchen.

“So they can leave with meals,” Walker said, adding that funding is being sought so it’s open to anyone who needs the class.

Down the road, Walker is also looking at offering a therapeutic chef certification that will concentrate on cooking for people dealing with cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disease and more.

“It’s more where the chef learns how to blend foods for a feeding tub; how to deal with mouth sores; how to increase calories for someone going through treatment,” Walker said.

Grieb added that they will continue to work with partners in healthcare. “A lot of issues we deal with are malnourishment and dehydration,” Grieb said.

The mission of The Wellness Kitchen is to provide healing meals and education. “We’ve only touched the surface of education,” Walker said.

A new program at the nonprofit is the teen cooking program that Lead Chef and Educator Evan Vossler started in June. The first session of the class was held over four weeks and the teens learned the fundamentals of cooking.

The Wellness Kitchen has a couple of pickup locations out of the North County: Cambria Connections, 1069 Main St., Ste. B, Cambria, and Idler’s Sleep Center, 189 Cross St., San Luis Obispo on Wednesdays from 2:30 to 6 p.m. and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Healing foods include soup, porridge, healing tea, mineral and bone broth and more. Orders placed by Sunday are available for pickup at one of the locations above or at the Templeton location Tuesdays from 3 to 4 p.m. and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

One of the first fundraisers Grieb is working on is the nonprofit’s annual S.O.U.L. Kitchen. The event will take place on Saturday, July 28 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Peachy Canyon Winery, 1480 N. Bethel Road in Templeton. The event will include live music, wine, silent and live auctions, food and more.

S.O.U.L. stands for seasonal, organic, unrefined and local. The Wellness Kitchen volunteers will prepare the light dinner and The Paisano’s will provide live music.

“We can’t thank Doug and Nancy Beckett enough for once again donating the use of their beautiful site of Peachy Canyon winery to host this year’s S.O.U.L. Kitchen event,” Walker said. “I love that this event offers summer breezes, great sounds from local musicians, The Paisano’s, fantastic dinner by The Wellness Kitchen, all while sitting in the beautiful park-like setting of Peachy Canyon Winery.”

Tickets are $40 a person and proceeds will benefit the Pay It Forward meal program that provides nutritious food for those going through critical illness and financial hardship.

For more information about the Wellness Kitchen, to volunteer or donate, go to TheWKRC.org or call 805-434-1800. The Wellness Kitchen is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and until 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

Heather Young

Heather Young is a freelance writer specializing in travel, wine, food and feel-good stories about people doing good in their communities and world. Find her on Instagram @travelswithheatheryoung