Saskatchewan Polytechnic Culinary Arts program turns training into community service
When a community comes together, great things can happen. This was evident recently in the Mayfair and Caswell Hill communities of Saskatoon. As Saskatchewan Polytechnic Culinary Arts instructor Everett Nelson was teaching classes virtually he was looking for unique ways to meet the learning outcomes during a year unlike any other.
“The cafeteria and restaurant have been closed because of the pandemic,” said Nelson. “I was looking for a way for students to learn volume production so they could get the experience of preparing large amounts of food.”
While considering the applied learning needs of his students, Nelson saw a need for nourishment in the community. He turned to local business owners for support and was impressed with the response.
“Everyone we talked to said, ‘Ya, let’s do this!’”
Cookies were donated from Christies Bakery and with food donated from FreshCo grocery store, Nelson’s students got busy making homemade soup, salads and sandwiches. On July 20, 100 hungry people were served outside the Mayfair Public Library in a little over an hour. With the success of the first event, the group held a second free lunch day on August 18, serving 150 meals.
“I would say for 60 per cent of the people who received a free meal, it may have been the only meal they would get that day,” said Nelson. “It felt so good to be able to serve them. The students could see first-hand how they were contributing.”
Through the free lunch initiative, the 10 students involved had the opportunity to learn large scale menu planning, food production, transportation and safety. Sandwiches were individually wrapped, salads were portioned out and kept on ice, and soup had to be kept hot.
“We were able to hit all the learning outcomes of the course,” said Nelson, a Sask Polytech alumnus who graduated in 1997 and has taught at the polytechnic for the past five years.
This fall the cafeteria and restaurants are scheduled to open as in-person learning resumes, but Nelson is hopeful that the community outreach initiative will continue.
“It was a preliminary community event that planted a seed I hope will continue to grow,” he said.
Nelson said the events are the perfect example of how doing a small service to your community can have a big impact.
In a year when isolation and social distancing have been the norm, Nelson said getting together with the community and serving food alongside his students was truly uplifting.
“It felt so good to give back and to serve people,” he said. “The students felt it too.”
“It truly was a win-win situation. The students had the opportunity to learn while serving a giving back to the community.”