To our Vetri Community Partnership family:
The situation concerning COVID-19 continues to evolve rapidly and as such I have an update for you from the communication you just received from me this morning.
As of approximately 3pm today, the School District of Philadelphia announced that beginning Monday, March 16, 2020 through Friday March 27, 2020 all Philadelphia public schools will be closed. The primary reason for the closure is that School District employees who live in neighboring counties are being asked not to travel, creating a significant staffing shortage for the District.
Therefore, ALL Vetri Community Partnership Programs will not operate during this time frame. This means we will not have any EAT 360, Mobile Teaching Kitchen, Vetri Cooking Lab or Culinary Medicine programs running anywhere, including in New Jersey or in charter or independent schools or clubs or community centers. This hiatus is in effect from Monday, March 16- Friday, March 27, 2020.
Additionally, we have asked all staff to work from home starting on Monday March 16- Friday March 27 out of an abundance of caution.
We will determine when, and if, our programs commence again and will be in touch prior to March 27th.
Challenging times but this team will rise to the occasion.
Thank you again for your support.
Wishing you and yours a safe and relaxing weekend.
Marlene L. Olshan
To all Vetri Community Partnership Stakeholders, Donors and Partners:
I wanted to update you on Vetri Community Partnership’s (VCP) preparation and plan regarding the COVID-19 situation. As you are all well aware, the Coronavirus is presenting the world and our region with a rare public health challenge. We are monitoring the situation carefully and are keeping close tabs on the CDC, the School District of Philadelphia and the City of Philadelphia directives.
Our first priority is the well-being and safety of our staff. They are aware of and are following all of the protocols concerning self-care including hand washing, social distancing etc. We have a Business Continuity Plan in place and all full-time staff have the ability to work from home if need be.
As a community-based organization however, most of our work takes place in schools and other community-based locations such as farmer’s markets and clubs. We are committed to doing our part to help mitigate the problem, while protecting the health of all of our stakeholders.
Effective as of today:
1- We will be postponing our Eat to Empower Dinner Series and Food Festival that was scheduled for April 25. We expect to announce a new fall date for these exciting events shortly.
2- The Mobile Teaching Kitchen will not participate in any visits out in the community where crowds of over 25 people are expected. This moratorium is in effect until March 27th and will be re-evaluated at that time.
3- EAT 360 and Vetri Cooking Lab programs will continue to run in schools that are open, taking direction from the School District of Philadelphia or relevant Charter network. As of today, 63 Philadelphia schools have closed and we have programs in 8 of them. We expect school closings to escalate and will continue to monitor the situation and react accordingly.
4- Culinary Medicine workshops will continue if participation is under 25 people per session.
5- VCP’s office at 211 N. 13th Street will remain open until further notice. We are confident that all employees are following the appropriate protocols that we have put in place.
It is an understatement to say that these are challenging times. I want to thank all of you for your support of Vetri Community Partnership. We could not do this work without you and are grateful to have you by our side during this very difficult time for our country.
The situation is constantly evolving, and I will update you as necessary.
Again, we appreciate you and your support.
Marlene L. Olshan
Twice a year, we announce that it’s time to launch another semester of Vetri Cooking Lab. We post pictures of our educator training and wish them and their students well as they embark on their 10-week culinary and nutrition education experience. But what one might not realize is that months of preparation go into getting ready for this exact moment. In fact, the process of launching a Vetri Cooking Lab starts approximately three months before the semester begins.
Using a previous semester’s recipe book as a base, program staff take a look at the big picture to consider what recipes worked well previously and which ones need to be updated. Things that could necessitate an update include improving flavor, easing of preparation in our classrooms, diversifying the types of recipes we make, better demonstrating STEAM concepts, and more. After identifying the recipes we want to update, program staff take time during the next several weeks to research, test, and retest new recipes until they have created dishes which are not only nutritious, but also full of flavor and able to provide enough jobs for 10-15 students to make together in our culinary classrooms.
At the same time, we begin mapping out the logistics of launching classes at over 35 sites across the region. One of the first tasks includes coordinating with our contacts at each of our sites to confirm dates and times for the new semester. While many of our educators return each semester, new applicants are interviewed and hired each season to ensure all sites are staffed. Beyond this, volunteers need to be recruited to assist the educators in their classes. Once all educators and volunteers have been brought on board, program staff must work with their individual schedules and transportation needs to assign them to an appropriate class time and location.
Another major task to be completed includes the preparation of our curriculum handbooks for our educators. Like the recipe books, program staff use a previous curriculum as a base upon which to build, and edit it to align with the recipes on deck for the coming semester. Curriculum content is also updated to make sure it’s up-to-date and relevant to students’ lives, interests, and learning styles. Lessons include informational content, educational games, and hands-on activities to help students learn things like proper measurement and knife skills, how to navigate nutrition labels, and how to think critically about where food comes from, what’s inside of it, and the decisions we make daily around food.
As educator training draws closer, many tasks still need to be accomplished. Recipe books and curriculum binders need to be printed. Spices need to be purchased, measured into individual bags, and packed into kits. Student aprons, dish towels, and other program supplies have to be ordered. All of these items and more then need to be counted, sorted, and placed into bags for educators to take to their sites.
After the months of recipe development, curriculum writing, logistics planning and staff hiring, the time for launch finally comes. On the day of training, over twenty educators come to the VCP office to learn about classroom management and instructional techniques, as well as to practice the recipes and run through lesson content. Once the day has finished, they grab their teaching kits that have been months in the making and head off, well prepared to lead their students through another successful semester.
So the next time you see the announcement that we’re launching Vetri Cooking Lab, know that it is more than just those pictures and that moment. It is the culmination of months of hard work and preparation to ensure we deliver thoughtful, relevant programming that not only inspires youth to cook and learn about nutritious foods, but also to have fun doing it.
Vetri Cooking Lab is made possible by support from GSK.
Say hello to Jaimie Field, the newest member of our Board of Directors! To help you get to know her more, we sat down with Jaimie to ask her a few quick questions as a part of a #VCPeople Q&A.
Q: So Jaimie, what do you do outside of your work with VCP? What is your background?
Currently, I am the Director of Sustainability at Entercom and also serve on the Board of Trustees at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I’ve always been very interested in art. In fact, I was an Art History major at Brown. To this day, I still love going to museums and am an avid collector. Otherwise, I also love being outdoors – hiking, biking, and even skiing and cross country in the winter. When I’m not outside, I enjoy cooking, reading, and playing games with my family.
Q: That’s so interesting! So is your love of cooking what attracted you to being on VCP’s Board?
In part, yes. I’m drawn to the work of VCP because I care deeply about the issue of children and families eating healthy. I think it’s so important that children learn how to cook and feel comfortable in the kitchen when they’re young so they can develop good nutritional habits that they can continue throughout their life. The medical costs of not doing this for both the individual and society are huge. My goal in joining the board is to help VCP have a greater impact in showing people how easy it can be to make nutritious meals at home with ingredients they have available to them.
Q: Alright, this is just a quick chat, so this is the last question. It’s a traditional one, but it is somewhat difficult – if you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be and why?
I guess I’d say a coconut. First, because it’s high up in a tree so it gets to see the sky and have nice views of nature, versus being a root vegetable and being stuck underground. Plus, I would get to live in a nice climate in the tropics, and I’m thinking with that hard shell I probably wouldn’t get eaten by bugs!
Say hello to Jie, one of our seven EAT360 Program Coordinators and also one of our newest staff members here at VCP!
To help you get to know him on a more personal level, we sat down with Jie to ask him a few questions as a part of a #VCPeople Q&A.
What did you do before VCP / what’s your background?
So I graduated from Rutgers New Brunswick with a major in Neuropsychology and have worked in the non-profit sector for the past 5-6 years. My initial focus was working with mental health, substance use, and homeless populations in Atlantic and Cape May County, New Jersey. Then I was promoted to a coordinator position where I had the honor of working with Holocaust survivors and their families and with case management for senior citizens.
What drew you to Vetri Community Partnership?
My parents owned a restaurant, so I’ve been in that business all of my life. Food has always been a big part of our family and I’ve always loved to cook for my friends/family/strangers. Moving to Philadelphia, I came to Vetri Community Partnership to mix my passion for helping others with my love for food!
What do you hope to accomplish as an EAT360 Program Coordinator?
Working in my school communities, I hope to help inspire children and adults to try more of the wonderful cuisines and flavors from around the world while also working to mitigate stigma about healthy food. I hope to do this by encouraging community members to be confident and open when trying unfamiliar recipes that are both delicious and nutritious!
If you were a fruit or vegetable which would you be and why?
I think I’d be a carabao mango! It grows best in tropical weather on an island close to volcanoes and it’s quite sweet!
If you see Jie around at your school, be sure to stop and say hello!
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!