Class Action

Feeding the needy and training new chefs in the process.If there ever was a perfect usage for the saying “win-win,” the New Hampshire Food Bank’s Recipe for Success program surely is it.Chef Jayson McCarter has the task of training student chefs to cook the after-school meal each weekday for the Manchester Boys and Girls Club, dinner for residents of Hampshire House, a halfway house on Elm Street, in addition to 150 meals daily for the Homeless Service Center also in Manchester. Along the way the student chefs, from difficult situations themselves, gain independence with new skills as they graduate and get real jobs in the marketplace. As more than a repository and distribution center, the Food Bank, with its outreach programs, uses donated resources and doubles their effectiveness as meals. While baskets of canned goods are still boxed up for food pantries, cooked meals prepared here are frozen and distributed to 20 to 30 agencies across the state from the central location in Manchester.The Recipe for Success program, administered by Helen Costello, began in May of 2008 at the Food Bank’s former location near the mills in Manchester. Now, with the opening of beautiful new headquarters on East Industrial Park Drive off of Candia Road, the students are working in a truly professional kitchen. In addition to heavy-duty stove tops and a pizza oven, there are several huge steam jacketed kettles that can tilt for pouring out the contents – perfect for soups, stews and chilis. The commercial ovens are used for preparing pans of lasagne and other one-pot meals that can be transported and reheated easily. An oven with a $5,000 price tag still attached was sitting idle. Chef McCarter says he is waiting for funds to get it installed, which will add to his production capabilities.The gleaming new kitchen is impressive indeed, with blue ceramic tiles and lively tangerine-colored walls. Along one side of the kitchen is tiered seating for the students to observe and do any book and pencil homework. And there is plenty of that. Each student completes training for ServSafe certification. This certificate gives students a leg up – it saves employers the $200 it would cost to train an employee in standard sanitary practices.The Recipe for Success classes run in eight-week sessions (260 hours) and students are taught the basics, enough to land them a job on the line or doing prep work. From there they are only limited by their ambition. Most executive chefs are willing to train eager employees to their professional standards. Students are also given additional training on social skills and résumé writing, along with a letter of recommendation when they graduate. There are no guarantees of employment but both Chef McCarter and Costello have relationships with potential employers all over the state. So far, 101 students have passed muster and graduated. One recent graduate, John Ducharme, is now head chef at the newly opened Old Theater Restaurant & Tavern at 6 School St. in Peterborough.The Recipe for Success program is free, though student receive a nominal stipend for transportation costs. Applicants need to be unemployed or underemployed. Student Cassandra Mackie of Manchester was a hairstylist but found it difficult work with a recent shoulder injury. “I was intrigued by owning my own catering business someday, and when this opportunity arose I jumped right in,” says Mackie. Wendy Duprat, also of Manchester, is a single parent and found the class listed on Craigslist. She says, “It makes me feel good that I am helping to feed homeless people and children good food. I have worked at school lunch programs in Nashua and know that kids don’t always make the right choices.”Chef McCarter says he uses recipes from the Armed Services – they are nutrition-based, designed for large numbers and tasty, too. Tropical pork, chicken and rice and chicken Marsala are a few of the meals the students recently prepared in the new kitchen.The current class, shown on page 62, had a trial by fire their second night on duty. The Food Bank open house ceremony on October 13 was attended by Senator Jean Shaheen and Governor John Lynch, among other political and business notables. Student Cassandra Mackie was impressed that Senator Shaheen came upstairs to the kitchen and praised their work for the passed appetizers served that evening. Mackie had a good story to tell the family when she got home that night.Of course, food for the open house had a corporate sponsor and didn’t come off the racks in the warehouse. Food is also purchased for the private catering jobs Chef McCarter assigns students to raise funds and gain additional experience. They even catered several events for Governor Lynch’s inaugural. Now that is a real experience for a résumé.Fresh protein from local supermarkets is donated through the Fresh Rescue program. Last year 215,357 pounds of protein, with close expiration dates, were used for the prepared dishes going to agencies or frozen in the huge freezers onsite for use as needed. Other food sources include generous donations from Wal-Mart in cash and product, gleaned produce from local farms at the end of the season and the Food Bank’s own garden at the Youth Detention Center on North River Road in Manchester. A quarter of an acre is also under cultivation as part of a project with St. Anselm College on the west side of Manchester. About 6,900 lbs. of produce were harvested from the two production gardens, says Costello.With more than 2,500 meals going out each week there is a constant need to replenish the shelves, coolers and freezers. A new sorting area is ready for smaller donations of mixed products, where they can be re-organized to go out to food pantries.Helen Costello also heads “Cooking Matters,” with coordinator Becca Story. Here, local chefs volunteer to teach basic home economic lessons at a few of the state’s food pantries. Some people just never learned the skills to cook nutritious meals from scratch. Costello says, “The president and CEO of the N.H Catholic Charities, Thomas Blonski, always adds, ‘We are not giving people fish, we are teaching them to fish.'”Regardless, the need is out there. It never stops. From serving 80,000 individuals across the state a few years ago the Food Bank is now in the critical situation of providing meals for 130,000 daily. As each class of about 15 to 20 students pass through the kitchen, the food and financial donations are maximized while job skills are gained and warm nutritious meals are sent to young and old. You could really call that a win, win, win. NH