Dear Friends of Vetri Community Partnership:
First, I hope that you, your family and loved ones are safe and coping as well as possible during these very turbulent times.
After five exciting years, the time has come for me to announce my firm departure date from Vetri Community Partnership. My original plan that was announced in February was to depart this spring. Once the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our world, the timeline shifted so that I could help the organization navigate through these unchartered waters. With our staff working tirelessly to pivot to virtual platforms and our financial position strong, the time has come for me to move on and my last day will be July 1, 2020.
Leading Vetri Community Partnership has been an incredible journey and I am so proud of everything we have accomplished together. Since joining VCP in October of 2015, we successfully developed and launched three new school- and community-based programs and have provided high-quality nutrition education in over 75 sites, with over 20,000 children and adults participating each year. Our team outgrew our small office in the Navy Yard and flourished into a staff of more than 50 full- and part-timers, each sharing a common passion and love for the work that we do.
I am pleased to announce that the Board of Directors has promoted Maddy Booth, currently VCP’s Education Program Director, to Chief Operating Officer. Additionally, Maddy will serve as the interim CEO until a permanent CEO is hired. Maddy brings an incredible amount of knowledge and passion to this mission and has been instrumental to VCP’s growth. I am confident that she will be a key part of the future leadership team that will take the organization to the next level. The Board of Directors has an active search in place for a permanent CEO, and expects to have the new leader hired sometime this fall.
To the staff and Board—your passion and commitment to our mission is unparalleled and I am so appreciative of each of you. To our donors and volunteers, we could not have accomplished any of this without your support. You have all made VCP the strong and vibrant organization that it is today.
Thank you for the opportunity you gave me to lead Vetri Community Partnership these past five years. I wish you all much success going forward. I know VCP is destined for great things!
Marlene L. Olshan
Say hello to Tara, a Chef Educator here at VCP who not only teaches in both Vetri Cooking Lab and Culinary Medicine, but also helps with recipe development! To help you get to know her more, we sat down with Tara to ask her a few quick questions as a part of a #VCPeople Q&A.
Q: So Tara, what’s your background outside of your work with VCP ?
I’ve worked in the food biz for 16 years–restaurants, retail, recipe development and television production for the Food Network, writing for local and national publications. I’ve written three cookbooks. I graduated from Villanova University and I have a culinary degree from The Restaurant School in Philadelphia. My husband and I live in Philadelphia with our daughter and twin sons.
Q: So does that mean your experience with food is mainly what draws you to the work of VCP?
To a degree! I love that our work empowers people to use the power and joy of food and cooking in their own lives. Our food philosophy is relatable and approachable, so people don’t feel intimidated about taking what they’ve learned with us and doing it at home for themselves. I love watching kids realizing their own capability in the kitchen and discovering new foods they like (especially when they swore they’d hate it!).
Q: Given this, what are your goals in your goals as an educator?
I aim to hear a kid say something like, “I didn’t think I liked zucchini, but it turns out I do!” or to have a student tell me they used a skill or made a recipe they learned in class at home. If little by little kids and grown ups experience the joy of nutritious food and cooking–in whatever way makes sense for their family, culture, and lives–then we’ll be on track to be a healthier world.
Q: As always, this last one is a thinker! If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be and why?
Definitely a tomato. It’s versatile, adaptable to change, gets along with lots of other ingredients. You can make something fancy with tomatoes, but they also shine on their own without a lot of extra.
Thanks for taking a moment to get to know Tara, our fantastic Chef Educator at VCP. If you see her around at your school, be sure to stop and say hello!
Meet Taylor, one of our EAT360 Program Coordinators!
As an EAT360 Coordinator, Taylor provides nutrition education and hands-on cooking experiences for both K-8 students and their caregivers in our partner schools. This year, worked with Solis-Cohen and Ziegler Elementary Schools. To help you get to know her more, we sat down with Taylor to to ask her a few quick questions as a part of a #VCPeople Series.
If you were a vegetable, what would you be and why?
I would be a sweet potato! I am sweet, versatile, and provide great energy!
What drew you to working for Vetri Community Partnership?
I joined FoodCorps in 2018-2019. While being a service member for FoodCorps, I really loved what we did and knew I wanted to pursue something just like it when I finished. After searching through different organizations, I came across VCP. I connected to the mission and vision, and knew it was the perfect place for me.
What’s an interest that you could go on and on about?
To no surprise, anything revolving around food, how it is made, or food from different cultures… You name it! If it has anything to deal with food, I will go on and on for hours.
Who would you choose (current or historical!) to be your life mentor, and why?
There are so many to choose from! One of my mentors would be Chef Ann Cooper. She is an great advocate of healthy food for all children, and she is a champion of school food reform. Chef Ann is also a graduate from the Culinary Institute of America, where I graduated from! I aspire to be of service for all children, especially those who lack the resources, and be an advocate for them to ensure they get the healthy food they deserve.
What is something that you like to do to keep a positive mindset?
Taking the time for self-care has really made a positive impact on me. A nice charcoal face mask, deep conditioning my hair, and drinking my hazelnut coffee are some self-care things that I love to do!
What was your favorite after school activity growing up?
I was on a step team as a kid. I loved being around my friends who were also a part of the team, and all the different step routines and chants we came up with. I still remember a few moves to this day.
This Saturday night marks what would have been our 3rd Annual Eat to Empower Food Festival and Dinner Series. Eat to Empower is always a special night for us as we are able to bring together hundreds of like-minded individuals, restaurants and companies to raise money to directly benefit our innovative nutrition education that takes place in over 75 sites across the Philadelphia area. While we are not able to see you in person tomorrow, I want you to know we truly value the support that has been given over the past year, especially in these very difficult past 6 weeks.
Up until this pandemic, our programs were designed for in-person, hands-on experiences. In the past year, we had engaged more than 20,000 local residents in learning about nutritious food choices and how to prepare more vegetable forward dishes at home. Due to the continued stay at home orders, our team has been hard at work to ensure that we are able to keep in contact with our communities and offer opportunities for learning at a distance.
We have some exciting initiatives that are about to be launched that I would love to share:
Beginning on Monday, April 27, our educators will be preparing meals for essential workers at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. These meals will be portioned to feed a family of four and will be distributed to medical workers, maintenance staff, and unpaid residents to take home as they end their shifts. Our goal is to provide meals for 60 families twice a week for a total of 480 meals per week. We are so thankful for the PHL COVID-19 Fund for the financial support of this project and the Fitler Club for the generous use of their kitchen for meal prep.
Vetri Cooking Lab is going virtual. Our Education Team has been hard at work transitioning our STEAM-based, out-of-school time program to accommodate our new world of distance learning. Beginning on April 27th, we will begin offering Zoom classes with our partners at Steppingstones Scholars with plans to offer weekly, virtual Vetri Cooking Lab to partner schools in the coming weeks.
Launching soon—Virtual Culinary Medicine. A new elective for 3rd year students at Perelman School of Medicine will run for two weeks starting on May 4th with daily culinary nutrition sessions that support medical topics, lectures, and readings.
Our EAT360 educators are adapting their classrooms to engage students and families through livestream nutrition education sessions. While Philadelphia schools may be suspended, our team continues to connect with school leaders to build innovative opportunities to promote wellness and create sustainable change now, and in the coming months.
Finally, we have been doing our best to keep in touch with our community by offering resources, recipes, and cooking tips to our entire network via our social media Virtual Cooking Club & weekly e-newsletter, The Weekly Dish.
We thank you for your continued support and again are sorry we will not be enjoying Eat to Empower with you tomorrow night. In light of the event’s postponement, I hope you will consider making a contribution to help more people develop the skills necessary to prepare nutritious meals at home.
These skills are needed now, more than ever.
Vetri Community Partnership CEO
During this National Volunteer Appreciation Week, we offer a heartfelt THANK YOU to the 150+ volunteers that have donated thousands of hours of time to Vetri Community Partnership over the last year. The passion and joy that you bring to each of our programs has not gone without notice and we appreciate each and every one of you!
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!