PAL – Play. Advocate. Live Well. in Spartanburg, South Carolina was originally founded 20 years ago to address the obesity epidemic by developing opportunities for healthy and active living within the community. Since that time, the organization’s programs have broadened to include wellness initiatives that address health equity and a changing population. PAL accomplishes its mission by building trails and parks, leading and advocating for healthy living policy at both the state and federal level, facilitating coalitions through trainings, meetings, and networks to build capacity in addressing the myriad of challenges, and supports the improvements and development of the local food system to provide greater access to healthy food for everyone – especially vulnerable populations. In 2023, the CCME Foundation provided a $30,000 grant to PAL for its efforts to expand the Cooking Up Confidence program within the community.    

Oftentimes, a barrier to eating healthy is one’s own confidence in the kitchen. Food programs can provide all the fresh produce it wants to families, but if they do not know how to cook it or include produce and ingredients with which they are not familiar, eating healthier can be additionally challenging. It becomes easier to just eat prepared and processed foods.  

Cooking Up Confidence: Skills in the Everyday Kitchen is a community collaborative program with a curriculum developed by PAL, the American Heart Association of the Upstate, and others, and has been implemented through various community partnerships. The goal of the program is to decrease chronic diseases in Spartanburg by teaching residents and families basic kitchen and cooking skills to help increase the preparing of nutritious meals using fresh fruits and vegetables. In addition, the program introduces participants to the FoodShare program, which is state-run, and ties in all of PAL’s food insecurity initiatives, such as the Food Hub and locally grown produce, thereby increasing participants’ ability to prepare home-cooked, healthier meals. 

PAL hired local farmer and chef instructor, Megan Jarrett, to not only teach the classes within the community and train instructors, but also to forge new partnerships, innovations, and onboard new partner sites for expanding the classes. It encompasses a four-class series emphasizing culinary skills, recipe adaptability, access to affordable and fresh produce, and food safety and health tips. The program aimed to focus on individuals with chronic diseases, middle school aged children, and the Hispanic community. However, its growing popularity has included other entities as well. A new partnership was formed with Jumpstart, a program assisting men transitioning out of prison, and there is an opportunity for it to expand into its own program. Other partnerships in development include faith-based communities, special education classes, the community college, and the healthcare organizations. In short, the Cooking Up Confidence courses can be tailored to its audience, so it has tremendous potential for varying community reach and impact to improve the health and wellness of participants.  

“We have been able to reach a lot of people with our community classes…we are really excited about the impact we’ve been able to make and all the potential we have with this Cooking Up Confidence program,” Ms. Jarrett stated. To learn more about the Cooking Up Confidence program or all the impactful work of PAL in Spartanburg please visit