Knowing your way around the kitchen is a handy skill. But being able to cook for someone else is even more valuable. Family Promise of Blount County is giving some middle school students in Maryville, TN, the chance to do both.
Like all Family Promise Affiliates, Family Promise of Blount County had to change the way they provided services when COVID hit. Volunteers went remote, families moved from a group shelter to temporary apartments, and one staple of the Family Promise shelter model was discontinued – volunteers sharing dinners with families. For the past two years, volunteers have still provided food and meals, but there are occasional gaps in the schedule when no volunteers are available.
During a community and career fair at a local middle school, Family Promise saw an opportunity to address this: a culinary arts class looking for a way to give back to the community.
“It’s a win-win relationship!” says the Affiliate’s Executive Director, Caroline Lamar.
Family Promise Community Engagement Coordinator Lorrie Crockett met with the students to tell them about Family Promise’s work and familiarize them with some of the challenges and repercussions families experiencing homelessness face. The class decided to cook a series of dinners for the families in the shelter program, and Crockett shared a little about each family so the students would understand who they were cooking for.
“It was amazing,” says Lamar. “They had posters up in their kitchens with descriptions of each family – number of family members, ages, any food allergies They wanted to put a personal touch on things as they prepared the meals.”
Family Promise delivered the freshly made meals to the families each day.
“Since COVID, we’ve entered this space where we have to evaluate ‘What does Family Promise look like now?’” says Lamar. “The pandemic has definitely changed the way we do things, but it has also been an opportunity to reach out to the community in new ways and connect with audiences we never had contact with before. Pre-COVID, we’d never thought of asking students to do something like this.”
She continues, “The children we serve sit across the lunch table from my daughters and all our kids. We have three school districts in our community, and right now, we have kids in our program from all three districts. So, while these culinary arts students were learning about homelessness and food insecurity, they were also serving their peers.”
Lamar sees an opportunity to expand the program to other schools in the area. The students and their teacher were also pleased with the project and the ability to make a difference. As culinary arts teacher Brittany Strom says, “I think it’s important for them to know…they can work toward something that is bigger than themselves.”