Guests pulling up to the Minden Community Food Centre on the evening of April 17 were greeted by Grade 8 Archie Stouffer Elementary School students waving visitors in at the bottom of the driveway. Then, as those same guests walked around the centre to the back entrance of the Food Centre, more students were lined up to welcome them to an evening where a room full of diners was buzzing with excitement and anticipation.
The evening, which brought friends and families of the elementary school students together with Minden Community Food Centre volunteers, celebrated the culmination of an eight-week program in which the students learned components of healthy living supporting the Grade 8 curriculum, and then learned to plan, prepare, cook and serve a nutritious home cooked meal. Throughout the program, students walked from school through town to the Food Centre on sunny days, and on the day of the dinner, walked from the school to the grocery store to shop for ingredients, picking up and properly disposing of litter along the way.
“It’s been really good, a new experience,” said student Hannah Gartshore, noting the benefits of, in particular: “Getting out of school and into the town, and more experience with people who aren’t in our school community.”
On the menu: a charcuterie tray, garlic bread and caesar salad to start; lasagna with broccoli and cheese sauce; and apple or pineapple upside down cake with ice cream to sweetly finish the meal.
“They did well, they did really well,” said Deb Fisher, who was there with Neveah Smith, her granddaughter, and Neveah’s brother Dominic, who have both had experience cooking at home. “If you don’t know how to cook, how can you live on your own? It’s like if you don’t know how to do your laundry, how do you expect to get your clothes clean? … This is absolutely amazing. It’s really good. They’ve all done a really good job. This is a good thing for all of them.”
Ted Howard sat down the table from Fisher and her family, sitting next to his son Devon, when Devon wasn’t on serving duty.
“I think it’s good for them, a good learning experience,” he said, and reported the food was good, as was the company.
Pausing while pushing a cart of plates to those seated, Devon said the class was fun, and that he enjoyed “having friends that I know cooking with me.” He said he knew how to cook before the class, but learned more about being patient.
“It’s busy [tonight], but it’s great, everyone looks like they’re loving it,” he said.
For Devon, it was special that he was able to cook for his dad, and spend time with him in that setting.
“It was wonderful, we’re very pleased,” said Tanya Boisvert, whose son Broden took part in the classes. She said it was important that the students were learning real-life skills.
“They did a really good job,” said Mike Boisvert, hoping that Broden will show off his skills at home, too.
Numerous times throughout the evening, guests mentioned the importance of community sitting down to eat a meal together.
Gartshore said she has experience cooking and baking at home, but appreciated the classes anyway.
“The first day we learned knives, and I thought that was really important,” she said. “I’ve had some background [in that], I love cooking and baking so I knew, but I knew that a lot of my peers didn’t so I think that was a really important thing. And they took votes on what we were going to make and had everyone involved, which I think was cool … Even the students that were a bit shy about it, they were excited to come, because of the new opportunity.”
Gartshore said she also appreciated learning how to make things from scratch, including the caesar salad dressing and croutons for that evening’s meal.
“We all had ten times better manners at the end of this course, than let me tell you, at the beginning,” she laughed. “They even taught us how to clean things properly and not contaminate food. I knew the basics, but I didn’t know further into it.”
Minden Community Food Centre volunteers were busy helping to organize the magic happening in the kitchen.
“I think it’s a great program,” said Marilynne Lesperance, who was honoured by the students with flowers and gratitude before the meal, which was held on her last day prior to retirement from her work with the food bank and community kitchen. “When they started, week one, they didn’t even know how to chop carrots, a lot of them. Today they came back from shopping, just put their aprons on, picked up the preparation plan and made the whole meal. So that’s eight lessons. They’re very proud of themselves and we’re proud of them.”