September 22
Ted Whipp, The Windsor Star | Mar 27, 2013 | Last Updated: Mar 27, 2013 - 9:07 UTC

Part classroom and work space, the Unemployed Help Centre's new community kitchen program is a one-stop shop providing cooking skills and much-needed food for local organizations. It teaches 30 public high school students, who help prepare meals for seniors and food banks, and snacks for schools and afterschool programs.

Helga Bailey, chairperson of the Greater Essex County District School Board, considers the recently opened kitchen "a gourmet recipe for success." The board joined with the centre, local sponsors and partners like the Victorian Order of Nurses, which now operates its Meals on Wheels program out of the centre on Cantelon Drive.

The kitchen provides a key component to centre's Plentiful Harvest food rescue initiative, which recovers and distributes food from area farms and food processors that might otherwise go to waste.

Since June 2011, the effort has recovered 909,464 pounds of nutritional food to distributed to food banks, after-school programs and neighbourhoods, said June Muir, CEO of the Unemployed Help Centre. With the new kitchen, she expects to handle more leftovers from sources like banquet halls.

The students in the cooking classes give both the community effort and new facility rave reviews. "It makes you feel good about everyone in this room," said Jonathon Boyd, 19. He's apprenticing with the school board's Chef Robert Catherine, who directs the kitchen programs.

"Here, we can do so many things, from so many perspectives and cuisines," Boyd said, adding he's learned everything from preparing smoked fish to basic vegetable stock.

Samantha Duguay, 17, in Grade 12 at the board's alternative school program, likes the effort, which benefits the less fortunate. Alex Smith, 17, in Grade 12 at Sandwich Secondary School, admits he really didn't like school much until helping prepare food here.

Not just a community kitchen, it's an off-site campus, said Dan Fister, the board's education superintendent for student success and alternative education. Students receive the same level of instruction as in a high school setting.

The community kitchen buys food for the VON programs, uses area resources, provides the latest equipment and offers a wide range of skills, from meat cutting to making sauces. The computerized oven is capable of roasting 60 to 80 chickens in less than half an hour, or providing 960 muffins in under 20 minutes, Catherine said.

Students have turned out impressive dishes like appetizers with steelhead trout poached in a vacuum-sealed bag and served on crostini breads.

Andrew Ward, executive director of the VON, said he's expecting that kind of quality cooking for the 200 Meals on Wheels needed daily.

The organization also relies on the kitchen to supply snacks for 2,200 students at six area elementary schools. It also aids community initiatives such as the after-school programs by Drouillard Place, and preserves perishable food bank donations for items such as pickles and sauces. The centre's garden might supply the kitchen with herbs and produce.

Muir said she's hearing seniors like the meals and appreciate the addition of salads. She and community leaders point to the extensive community partnerships and business and labour sponsors that helped make this possible. The kitchen project cost about $700,000.

There's a need for it with continuing high unemployment here, said Gary Parent, president of the Unemployed Help Centre's board.

The kitchen can provide a training area for those in employment skills programs and offer classes about healthy food and cooking on a budget.

Chef Catherine and Mike Turnbull, food rescue program manager, say the door is open for food donations and volunteers, including retired chefs, cooks and those with food service experience. The centre can also accept more sponsorship support, Muir said.

Visit plentifulharvest.ca or call Mike Turnbull, 519-944-4900, ext. 117.

Read More
tags: community kitchen program, plentiful harvest food rescue initiative