E3 Academy students test out their recipes in the UNO Center kitchen.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Every Wednesday, clients of the Friendship Center Food Pantry gather down the street in the First Baptist Church to sign in and wait their turn.
On a recent Wednesday morning, they got a little extra surprise: homemade treats prepared and presented by the students of the E3 Academy, a competency-based program of Drury High School that features a non-traditional classroom setup for students at risk of leaving school.
The students came to the church bearing a set of recipe cards, which they produced as part of their quarter-long service-learning project to address issues related to food insecurity. As an added treat, they prepared samples of some of their favorite recipes, like pasta salad and five-layer dip, for the food pantry clients to try out.
"We appreciate them coming and connecting with others in the community," food pantry organizer Al Nelson said.
Nelson and the Friendship Center are not strangers to the E3 students, who came to the food pantry two years ago to present a cookbook. This time around, they found recipes online, researched the nutritional content of the ingredients, tested and tweaked 16 of them, and printed them on recipe cards to leave with the food pantry to make available to clients looking for ways to create healthy, delicious food with typical items found in the food pantry, like beans and pasta. In addition the service aspect of the project, the students also developed a variety of academic and social-emotional skills throughout the project, including research, writing, presentation, budgeting, fractions, collaboration, civic engagement and communication, according to Abby Reifsnyder, a Drury adjustment counselor who works with the public school's alternative learning program.
The E3 students produced these recipe cards.
They also, of course, got to cook: The students used the kitchen at the UNO Community Center on River Street, working in groups to try their hand at making some of the recipes they had chosen from various online resources and serve them to each other.
"We were using stoves, blenders, toasters," said student Jammie Durant of North Adams, who said he didn't have much experience cooking beyond making grilled cheese sandwiches or hot dogs but now feels like he might be able to cook for his family. "It's cool to learn. It feels like a good opportunity to have."
"We got to do stuff we wouldn't normally do in school," agreed classmate Dakota Solomon, also of North Adams. Solomon said he cooks "all the time" at home but this project was different because they were working in teams and working on a project that was about more than having a meal.
"We like giving back to the community," he said. "For E3 to come together and cook food and service it, that's the best thing we can do for the community."
Durant said his favorite recipe of the bunch was a baked ziti recipe that "looked like lasagna" all piled up and baked with pasta and cheese. Solomon said his favorite was the "french toast casserole," a creation using sausage, Hawaiian bread and eggs baked until golden brown.
"It was really delicious," he said.
Student Josh Pachecano said his favorite recipe was the seven-layer dip because of all of its layers of flavor.
"It keeps hitting you — pow, pow, pow," he said.
Student Tieray Moore had trouble deciding between the french toast casserole and the chicken stir fry for his favorite but said he was glad to have had the opportunity to learn these skills while giving back to the community.
"It's not anything I'm used to. For me, it's huge," said Moore, who said his family has limited resources and he learned a lot about how to make healthy and delicious recipes from what is on hand — recipes like chicken alfredo, which he hopes to try at home. "We live off what we're provided."
And that was the main goal of this recipe card project, said Durant, who said researching food insecurity made him and his classmates more empathetic toward people in need.
"A lot of people die because they don't know how to control their bodies and diet," he said. "The most positive thing we can do is to provide healthy information about food.
"We can tell people how to take what you get at the food pantry and make a healthy meal out of it."
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