Power Packs


I have not done a profile of any one in a long time. A real long time. But recently I read about a dynamite lady. And I just have to tell you about her and the wonderful project she has begun.

Meet Joan Espenshade of Lancaster, PA.

From the Power Packs website:

The Power Packs Project aims to improve the mental and physical health of the children in the program by helping their parents provide nutritious meals over weekends when the school breakfast and lunch programs are unavailable to them.

Joan was also featured over a year ago in Family Circle magazine. From the Power Packs website:

In the winter of 2004 Joan Espenshade learned some shocking news at a district [school] meeting: Local children were coming to school on Monday mornings showing signs of hunger, such as headaches and stomachaches, which made it difficult for them to focus in class. “It seemed inconceivable that children in Lancaster could be going hungry,” Joan says.

Joan felt compelled to help, so she and four other volunteers created the Power Packs Project. In the spring of 2005 they launched the program at an elementary school. On Fridays participating families receive a healthy dinner recipe and most of the necessary ingredients. The recipes are in Spanish and English, and the meal costs less than $3.50 to make but feeds five people. Other staples like soup, cereal and peanut butter are also included, as well as weekly tips on serving size and how to use leftovers. Parents are responsible for picking up their food every week. Source: Family Circle Magazine, February 10, 2010

The program is funded mostly through donations and grants.

What a fantastic idea and program. This is better than teaching children to cook in school. This program teaches the family how to cook, and how to cook healthy. And children get to see and hopefully help their parents cook. There is no better way to learn to cook.

How are parents responding to the program? Again, from the Power Packs website:

“We got a note from one of the moms saying that now that they’re cooking actual meals, they’re sitting down and eating together as a family,” Joan says. Teachers notice a change too—students are more focused and better behaved.

It doesn’t get much better than this. As a former teacher I can tell you this is the dream come true of every teacher who has ever had a hungry child in their classroom.

The Power Packs program has expanded into 21 schools in six school districts in Lancaster County. There are 242 families being served now and over 150 volunteers who help.

Joan Espenshade reminds me of Marla Caplon, Supervisor of Food Services for Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. I highlighted her work in March, 2010, in Snow Days Means Some Children Go Hungry. Marla made sure children and families received food when schools were closed due to snow.

Joan and all of her volunteers exhibit the true American Spirit.

So today I applaud Joan Espenshade and her volunteers for their work and their caring spirit in getting food and teaching cooking skills to these children and their families.

“I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. Matthew 25:35

If you would like to help out, donate, or maybe start a similar program where you live, you can learn more at the Power Packs Project web site. Just click the link.

The web site even includes the types of recipes I like to share here at MTTD: quick, easy, inexpensive. Today it is: Confetti Tacos.Espenshade

Featured Recipe        Green Bean Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

This is a great and easy little salad or side dish for any meal. It is the vinaigrette dressing that makes this salad so special.

This would be a great salad or side dish to serve with last Monday’s recipe, Baked Pork Chops with Rice.

And best of all, this delicious dish comes in at a low $0.86 per person!!!

It would also be super for any of the up coming holidays: Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day picnics.

As is so often the case with me, I do not know what magazine this recipe comes from. I just cut it out years ago and taped into one of “My Cookbooks” as I call them. Wish I could give more attribution than that.

This is what you will need for 4 people:

1 pound green beans trimmed

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar*

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup sliced almonds

Salt and pepper to taste

*NOTE: If you do not have sherry vinegar use what you have on hand, red wine vinegar, cider vinegar, rice vinegar. What  ever you have or can afford.

Here is what you do:

Wash and trim the ends off of the beans. 

The recipe calls for cooking the beans in a large pot of salted water and cooking until very tender, 6-8 minutes. Then rinse under cold running water.

I DON”T DO THAT. Instead I steam the beans. Then I cool them under the cold running water.

While the beans are cooking or steaming, which ever you prefer, toast the almonds. NOTE: You can used sliced or slivered as I did. I had slivered left from Valentine Day treats, so I used them up rather than buy sliced ones. In many ways I liked these better than sliced almonds because there was more crunch!

Also while the beans are steaming make the dressing. Dump the remaining ingredients in a bowl…….

………and whisk together.

MAGAZINE DIRECTIONS: When the beans are cooked and very tender drain and run them under cold water to cool.  “Rub the beans  vigorously between your hands to break them in half lengthwise.”

REALITY: I have never been able to do that. Rub vigorously as I might the beans just do not break open. Maybe since I steam the beans and do not cook them in boiling water they do not “break in half lengthwise.”  Steaming may not make the beans soft enough. But I do not like mushy vegetables. So I stick with steaming.

And because it looks so pretty to expose the seeds inside the beans I want to get something as close to what the magazine pictured as I can.

So this is what I do. After I cool the beans under cold water I dry them off a bit. I place most of them in a serving bowl.

But I put 5-10 beans aside. These I cut along the seam of the bean exposing the seeds inside. Then I place those on top of the beans I placed in the serving dish.

I think seeing some open beans is a nice touch. But it is not necessary. You can pour the dressing over the beans whole and they will still taste just as delicious. And no one will ever know the difference.

Drizzle the dressing over the beans. Top with the almonds. Add more salt and pepper if you wish.



1 pound green beans                      $1.26

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard             $0.26

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar           $0.99

3 tablespoons olive oil                     $0.54

½ cup sliced almonds                      $0.40

Salt and pepper to taste

Total cost = $3.45
Cost per person = $0.86

This cost sure beats a $2.00++++ store bought salad with day old and/or wilted lettuce.

Quote of the Day

What some call health, if purchased by perpetual anxiety about diet, isn’t much better than tedious disease.

George Dennison Prentice


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1 comment to Power Packs

  • What an outstanding woman. It takes a very special person to put her own wants and needs aside to do something like that for kids she will probably never meet. Sorta makes me feel all selfish and stuff.

    The green beans recipe looks yum. Reminds me of the time my mother went to a garage sale and came back with an antique “thing”. My father said, “What’s that?” My mother replied, “I don’t know but it was only fifteen cents. I’m going to put it on the kitchen counter until someone says, ‘oh, you have a ____, and then I’ll know what it is.”

    Sure enough about 6 months later a friend of hers came by to play cards one night and he said, “Anne, where’d you get the antique bean splitter?” Then it was time to put it away. She never used it.

    So if you were near I could give you the splitter and you wouldn’t have to cut them with a knife. 🙂