Students cook for community

A COVID-19 catering program gives students lessons in literacy, numeracy and empathy.

Image: A student at Dorchester School packs meals for the local community.

Every week 300 meals cooked by students are pumped out of the Dorchester School commercial kitchen, packed into single-serve containers and frozen to distribute to families impacted by COVID-19.

In the past month the school inside Reiby Youth Justice Centre has cooked more than 1,500 meals, which have fed detainees at the centre, homeless people and local families.

The principal of Dorchester School, Alexandra Stylis, said the cooking spree started when there were grocery shortages in the early days of the pandemic lockdown and concerns about how to feed the detainees at the youth justice centre.

The school already had a commercial kitchen and a commercial freezer with capacity for 500 containers. Ms Stylis then hired a chef to work with a rotating roster of students, and to supervise commercial kitchen food preparation, health and hygiene guidelines.

“Once we had 500 meals we contacted a homeless hub in Campbelltown and we stocked up their freezer, and then we decided to support our local community as many people are struggling and have lost jobs or work hours,” Ms Stylis said.

Casseroles, curries, vegetables, steaks, sausages, pasta, cakes and fruit bowls are now regularly produced for distribution to the Airds community, near Campbelltown, one of Sydney’s lowest socioeconomic areas.

As they cook, the students learn numeracy and literacy skills such as measurement and how to read a recipe and social and interpersonal skills from working in a team.

“Having themselves been in difficult circumstances the students can empathise with local families and giving back to the community makes them feel valued,” Ms Stylis said.”

The cooking program complements the school’s food technology and barista courses. Dorchester School educates up to 55 students in small classes. The male and female detainees are aged from 10 to 21, including young people on community service programs to transition back to the community.

Local public primary schools Briar Road and John Warby and Airds High School are now distributing the Dorchester School meals to families in their communities.

Dorchester School has just hired a second chef to work with students to cook 100 meals a week for Aboriginal Elders in the local community.

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