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Senior Citizens, Culinary Students Join Forces
Riv senior brunch
At the first Senior Brunch of the new school year served up by the Riverbank High School Culinary Class, the students interviewed the seniors to familiarize themselves with whom they are cooking for and what types of food the seniors enjoy most. These students and seniors enjoyed a chuckle together at brunch this past Friday. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS

Local senior citizens and members of Riverbank High School’s culinary class have come together again for Senior Brunch Fridays. This free brunch is sponsored by Central Valley Community Resources and is usually held at the Riverbank Community Center from 10 a.m. until noon. The brunch has been ongoing for the past four years along with the collaboration with the culinary arts students. With a campaign slogan that she has been living up to, Vice Mayor Darlene Barber-Martinez had a priority to make a difference in the lives of senior citizens, students and the community and this program has been helping her do just that.

“So for our senior citizens I believe in healthy eating and active living,” said Martinez. “So instead of staying at home this was a way to get out, bring their friends and socialize instead of just being at home and to enjoy a healthy meal.”

Culinary Instructor Emily Cowdrey had her class ready to go with a new plan of attack this year, serving up healthy delicious meals for the senior citizens starting with a food interview. They want to know what types of foods they like so they can prepare food that they all will enjoy.

“We planned it based on what we had available and seasonality,” added Cowdrey. “We had eggs donated from Burroughs Family Farms and we used melons from the Modesto Farmers Market. I think it went okay for the first time; still working at building confidence in my students. My classes have doubled in size since last year which speaks to the program. The students get excited to use practical cooking skills to be able to cook for others and themselves.”

At the end of the year CVCR will offer a scholarship to students based on their community service and volunteering, which is what CVCR is about. The camaraderie between the seniors and the bingo game prior to brunch had everyone focused and concentrating on the numbers and letters being called, hoping for a win before lunch was served.

“This teaches students what it takes to work/run a kitchen, how to big batch cook, cost out a recipe, and be able to provide nourishment to the local community,” Cowdrey explained about partnering with CVCR.

There were more than a dozen attendees at the very first brunch hosted by the high school students this new school year. The students served up a Frittata and a Farmer’s Market Melon Mix. They gave each guest a placemat that had the items that were being served on it and the recipe on the back that they could take home with them to recreate.

They enjoyed the brunch and expressed how tasty everything was and for a few they asked not to use too much salt so they can salt their food to their liking. During brunch it was one of the guests’ birthdays so everyone sang her a song. Some of the guest’s favorites, learned during the interview process, were the corn chowder, baked potatoes, nachos, shepherd’s pie and some of the salads from years past.

The interview started off slowly but eventually the students and seniors were spread throughout the room in groups talking about food traditions as well as students getting to know who they are cooking for this year.

“The students enjoyed sitting with the seniors and learning more about them,” said Cowdrey. “This year we are focusing on meal/menu costs, seasonal and local foods, and how to work in a professional environment.”

The culinary class has already participated in some community events like the Stanislaus Education Foundation Fundraiser. They will be assisting with the Greek Food Festival and a Boys and Girls Club event this month. Culinary students will also take a field trip to Columbia College to tour the campus and the Culinary Arts Program.

“Last year I was able to put in a garden space outside of my kitchen classroom,” stated Cowdrey. “So to have students be able to walk outside and use the garden as a classroom extension to gather herbs and produce for our recipes. I am looking forward to maintaining our garden space and utilizing it throughout the year. I am also looking forward to upgrading our kitchen space to give it more professional equipment that students would use in the workplace.”

Martinez expressed that the senior brunch is open to anyone and that they will not turn anyone away. They have speakers at the brunch on occasion that share information about elder abuse, phone call scams and they get information that they can take with them regarding low income rent and social services.

The match made on Fridays with the youth and the elderly seems to provide a service to both parties that will hopefully continue for many more years.