We recently hosted the first session of our new volunteer ambassador program called Food For Thought! This meeting provided current volunteers with in-depth insight into our programs, then concluded with the group preparing a potential new program recipe – veggie sushi.
One of the goals of the Food For Thought program is to provide active volunteers with an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of Vetri Community Partnership’s (VCP) programming, including the inner-workings of our program layouts and reach. As volunteers become better able to conceptualize VCP’s philosophies and initiatives across programs, the aim is to prepare them for opportunities to join VCP staff at community engagement events such as health & wellness or recruitment fairs, or even to assist in facilitating volunteer orientations.
According to Community Engagement Coordinator, Ridhdhi Parmar, “Even longtime volunteers really seemed to learn a lot at the session! There were a lot of ‘aha’ moments in regards to learning about our history and program evolution, as well as the general build-out of curriculum and content.”
When looking back on the session, volunteer Linda Canataro reflected on her own ‘aha’ moment, “Last night I thought that the sushi rolling would benefit more of the older children. I now recall that when our class made burritos, I was surprised at how well some of the 4-5th graders made them. It is an activity for everyone!”
Food For Thought is also intended to create a space for volunteers to be able to meet their peers to share both their experiences with VCP, as well as with life in general.
From what she could see while leading the session, Parmar believes it did just that, “It was wonderful to see them sharing and comparing their experiences as volunteers. This also led to folks to chat about their own personal backgrounds and lives and it was amazing to witness personal connections being made in a fun space!”
For more information about the Food For Thought program, including the upcoming session on Dec. 11, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Say hello to Shoshanna, one of our fantastic Mobile Teaching Kitchen Educators! In this role, she helps bring the culinary classroom curbside in the communities that we serve. The kitchen itself is a modified food truck carrying everything needed for pop-up cooking classes and demonstrations at schools, community events, farmers markets and more.
Visits typically take place in partnership with local food access partners who bring fresh and affordable produce markets to communities in need. Shoshanna and all of our other MTK Educators feature ingredients that are available at the market that day, bridging the final gap to more nutritious eating by showing how delicious and approachable making from-scratch dishes at home can be.
To help you get to know more about Shoshanna, we sat down to ask her a few questions as a part of a #VCPeople Q&A:
Q: So what do you do outside of your work as an MTK Educator?
Shoshanna: My background is photojournalism, which I use to document weddings and other events. Lately, I volunteer photography for After School Activity Partnership and plan weddings with Jeffrey Miller Catering. I’m also serving on the board of Photography Without Borders, which teaches middle school and high school students in North Philly!
Q: Wow, that sounds so interesting! And pretty different from your role as an MTK Educator, too. What is it that drew you to your role with VCP?
Shoshanna: Well I have been passionate about a plant-centered diet since reading Diet For A Small Planet at age 14. My sister-in-law teaches at Community Partnership School where VCP once administered the old Eatiquette program. Years later, I connected the dots and learned that MTK needed educators and thought it would be a great way to engage in another one of my passions!
Q: What has your favorite part of being an MTK Educator been thus far?
Shoshanna: With MTK, I love visiting communities in neighborhoods of my city that I have not been to before and getting to know them better. It’s always encouraging to experience people developing new relationships with vegetables, too. People are often pleasantly surprised by how delicious they can be!
Q: Last question – if you were a fruit or a veggie what would you be and why?
Shoshanna: I’d probably say grapes. They’re sweet and fun to eat, plus a full bunch has a sense of abundance.
If you see Shoshanna with the Mobile Teaching Kitchen in your neighborhood, be sure to stop, take a tasty sample, and say hello!
Say hello to Kendra, one of our over twenty part-time Educators with the Vetri Cooking Lab program! In this role, she works with a class of fifteen 4th through 8th graders once a week after school for ten weeks. Together she and her students use the kitchen as a classroom to combine cooking, nutrition education, and science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) core concepts to help them become more educated food consumers. The Vetri Cooking Lab program is possible with support from GSK.
To help you get to know Kendra on a more personal level, we sat down to ask her a few questions as a part of a #VCPeople Q&A:
Q: So what do you do outside of your work with VCP, Kendra?
Kendra: By day, I work for the School District of Philadelphia as a Climate and Culture Coach. Simply put, I work with principals, staff, and students to build a supportive learning environment that promotes academic and behavioral growth and achievement, with the aim of making a school a healthy and effective space for learning. I like to believe I bring a lot of this approach to my cooking lab. It is my goal to make sure the “Little Chefs” know this space is safe and supportive to learn, grow, make mistakes and expand their knowledge around food, nutrition, and cooking.
Q: So is this background in education what drew you to VCP and the role of Vetri Cooking Lab Educator?
Kendra: I consider finding this role happenstance. In all honesty, I never thought I wanted to be a teacher/educator. I ran away from the role. Everyone in my family is a teacher and I thought I didn’t have the educator calling! But I knew cooking was always a passion and I wanted an opportunity that felt fulfilling, but didn’t feel like a job. Something impactful and meaningful, yet fun and challenging.
Then I found VCP and it felt like I found the golden ticket! It was flexible for my schedule, comprehensive, thorough, engaging, and the staff is amazing, diverse, passionate, knowledgeable and kind. The curriculum was comprehensive and thorough – something I could fully get behind and support. I instantly became a fan of VCP! They truly care about the “whole” educator, and choose to nurture their people in such a way that compels you to want to support their mission, vision and values.
Q: Given all this, what has your favorite part of being VCL Educator been thus far?
Kendra: Being a VCL Educator has been beautifully challenging! Keeping young learners engaged is always a task. But the thing is, they keep me on my toes and challenge me in a way that refines my teaching. They make me think in a new way. I love seeing their palates and vocabulary mature. It’s definitely a feel good moment.
Q: Alright last question – if you were a fruit or a veggie what would you be and why?
Kendra: Hmm, if I were a fruit, it would be a pineapple: unique and fun, sweet and refreshing. I pair well with both savory and sweet, but can stand on my own!
If you see Kendra around at your school, be sure to stop and say hello!
After a long summer of writing curriculum, organizing materials, and preparing educators to lead sessions, we are all set to launch Vetri Cooking Lab, EAT360, and Culinary Medicine for the 2019-2020 school year.
According to Celia Mason, Vetri Cooking Lab (VCL) Program Manager, “It’s such an exciting time of year. VCL is launching at 37 sites (seven of which are new) and training a team of 25 Educators (over a dozen of which are new)!”
Thanks to renewed support from GSK, this 10-week culinary and nutrition education program which highlights STEAM (science, tech, engineering, arts, and science) core concepts will be able to reach more youth than ever before. Some of the new sites include: Edward Steel School in Hunting Park, Forrest Elementary in Tacony, and KIPP Lanning Square in Camden, NJ.
After a successful 2018-2019 school year, EAT360, our SNAP-Ed funded program, is also experiencing growth this year by partnering with two new sites: Chester A. Arthur School in Graduate Hospital and Universal Alcorn Charter in Grays Ferry.
“We’re really looking forward to the new year with all of our schools! Our nutrition educators can’t wait to start their in-school time classes for students, after-school community ed sessions for adults, and to begin their efforts to support a culture of wellness in their school communities,” said Mary Bullock, EAT360 Program Director.
Working not just in schools, but also in healthcare settings, VCP is now in its second year of offering culinary and nutrition education classes for fourth-year medical students at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine.
The students have found this course in Culinary Medicine incredibly valuable in helping to prepare them to coach their future patients in nutritious cooking. According to med student Krystal Hill, “This course helped me realize that as a doctor I can empower my patients to reach their health goals by teaching them about healthy, delicious cooking techniques.”
As all of these programs begin to ramp up, Mobile Teaching Kitchen workshops, demonstrations, and tastings at various sites in our region remain steady. Even as the weather gets colder, the truck will continue programming throughout the fall and winter seasons.
Say hello to Erika, our new Vetri Cooking Lab Coordinator and one of our newest staff members here at VCP! In this brand new role, she will be helping to grow and manage the Vetri Cooking Lab program, especially through site coordination and logistics.
To help you get to know her on a more personal level, we sat down with Erika to ask her a few questions as a part of a #VCPeople Q&A:
Q: So what did you do before you came to Vetri Community Partnership, Erika?
Erika: Well right now I’m a Registered Dietician to-be going to school part-time at Rutgers. Beyond that, my background is in Nutrition & Dietetics. I’ve worked with youth all my life and had various experiences with other nutrition-related nonprofits during my college career.
Q: Given it seems like you’ve had lots of experiences with other non-profits, what specifically draws you to the work of VCP?
Erika: My passions in life are people (especially youth), wellness promotion, food and nutrition, science, and the local Philadelphia community. So when I found VCP it was like finding the intersection of all the things in life that I love! How could you beat that?
Q: It sounds like you’re excited to be in this role! What do you hope to accomplish in your work here at VCP?
Erika: My main goal is to help even more of our neighbors get the opportunity to fall in love with food and cooking like I have! I think VCP has made an incredible impact, but there is always room for more growth. I hope to be able to get creative with new ways to see our mission continue to blossom!
Q: So other than exploring your love of food and cooking, what do you like to do in your free time?
Erika: I’m usually pretty busy with school and work, but other than that I love yoga and spinning, spending time with my daughter and my friends, trying new local food spots, and rooting for the Eagles!
Q: Alright we just have one final question – if you were a fruit or a veggie what would you be and why?
Erika: Oh, wow! Let’s see, if I were a vegetable I’d be Brussels sprouts. I’m not sure why, maybe just because I’m craving them right now, ha! And if I were a fruit, I’d be… A PINEAPPLE! Mostly because their leaves remind me of my crazy hair.
If you see Erika around at one of your schools, be sure to stop and say hello!
On the beautiful evening of Saturday April 27th, Vetri Community Partnership held our 2nd Annual Eat to Empower Dinner Series and Food Festival.
The Eat to Empower Dinner Series included a group of six invitation-only dinners that were held in private locations throughout the city. Here we were honored to have some of the nation’s best chefs join us to partner with a selection of Philadelphia’s finest chefs to prepare a fantastic meal for each of the hosts and their guests.
That same evening at Cherry Street Pier, over 450 Eat to Empower Food Festival guests came hungry and ready to enjoy a sampling of Philly’s most popular local restaurants and beverage companies. The beautiful views, weather, raffles, auctions, music and much more all added to the appeal of the evening!
Before the night was over, guests at both the Dinner Series and the Food Festival helped to raise over $300,000 to support our culinary and nutrition education programs.
Our Mobile Teaching Kitchen has had quite a busy year! One of the most exciting additions includes the purchasing of another vehicle, adding to our fleet of now three. This new Mobile Teaching Kitchen “Mini” is a smaller version of our current trucks, which allows us to more efficiently reach our program partners to deliver indoor programming such as workshops and demos without all of the bulk of the full sized trucks.
With the help of all three of our trucks, MTK made over 250 visits between September and May, delivering over 1,800 hours of nutrition education to over 10,000 participants throughout the Philly and Camden region. Doing this was a tremendous team effort which required all hands on deck and the addition of one new full-time and three new part-time MTK staff members, as well as the help of our many volunteers.
This Summer we have over 100 more visits scheduled where we hope to help inspire a love of food and cooking within children and adults across Philadelphia and Camden. Look for #VetriOnWheels on our social media, especially on MTK Monday, to see where the truck will be next!
Vetri Cooking Lab had a year of tremendous growth, expanding from 23 cooking lab sites each semester to 32 this year! This expansion also included the addition of brand new audiences.
Of note is our new partnership with the Achieving Independence Center (AIC) in North Philly – here we host VCL for youth ages 15-20 within the foster care system that will soon be living on their own. This is exciting because the youth are building life skills, confidence in the kitchen, and knowledge that will help them make informed decisions around purchasing, cooking, and eating food!
We also launched programming at our first high school – Liguori Academy in Kensington. This expansion has allowed us to dive deeper into our conversations around food and expand our recipes to challenge an older audience which has more agency over their food decisions.
“I like getting to learn more about cooking because my New Year’s Resolution was to learn how to do it on my own. I’m also happy that it was healthy foods because it taught me that not everything has to be loaded with sugar for me to like it.”
-Jay, 11th Grader at AIC
In honor of Black History Month, we are highlighting one of the courses offered by our EAT360 program, A Taste of African Heritage! Through this course created by Oldways, adult community members learn to cook and celebrate the healthy and delicious food traditions of the African Diaspora with hands-on culinary classes.
A Taste of African Heritage (ATOAH) is more than just a series of cooking classes. It is a new kind of wellness program designed to reconnect participants with vibrant ways of eating and living that once promoted the health of African American ancestors everywhere. Not only does it introduce participants to the rich cultural history of African heritage foods, but also it provides them the tools they need to adopt this traditional way of eating for better health in modern day life.
Our EAT360 Program Coordinators offer this program at partner schools year-round during after school-hours. Childcare is provided. Like us on Facebook to stay up to date on the next ATOAH course offerings.
The Rite Aid Foundation has awarded a $25,000 KidCents Regional Grant to Vetri Community Partnership for the My Daughter’s Kitchen program.
The new KidCents Regional Grant Program, which provides grants of $15,000-$30,000, significantly expands the reach of KidCents by funding specific out-of-school-time programs focused on children’s nutrition, physical fitness and academic success. The KidCents program also annually supports a select group of more than 400 nonprofit, kid-focused organizations committed to improving the health and wellbeing of children living in the communities Rite Aid serves and national organizations focused on critical children’s issues, including The Fred Rogers Company, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and Folds of Honor.
“We created the KidCents program to ensure that kids have a chance for better lives and brighter futures,” said Tracy Henderson, director of The Rite Aid Foundation and charitable giving initiatives. “With the introduction of the KidCents Regional Grant program, we are expanding our efforts even more while filling a need for valuable out-of-school-time programming. In addition, we are enabling our partner nonprofit organizations to implement innovative, ground-breaking programs that advance children’s health and wellbeing and promote academic growth.”
KidCents Regional Grants support nonprofit organizations with programs that serve children, from newborn to 18 years of age, and improve the quality of life in Rite Aid communities. The grants support three of KidCents’ primary focus areas for improving the health and wellbeing of children: healthy eating, active living and education. To be considered, programs and projects were required to take place during out-of-school-time. Priority was given to programs supporting communities in need.
The inaugural cycle of grants launched in May 2018 and was available in select counties in the following states: California, Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington. Another cycle of KidCents Regional Grants will launch later this year. To learn more about the program visit riteaid.com/grants.