BRICK – It was all hands on deck during the week before Thanksgiving for the 170 Culinary Arts students at Brick Vo-tech, when all the students helped to prepare 3,000 meals for Ocean and Monmouth County families in need.
Culinary 1 instructor Chef Gary Lesniak said the menu for “Feed the Need” has stayed the same over the years, but the need always increases.
Student enrollment is at full capacity, which was helpful since 400 turkeys had to be thawed, sectioned, deboned, baked and plated.
The Culinary Arts instructors, which include Chefs Jill Scott, Kevin Musto, Donna Squillaro and newcomer Monica Impaglia, have the preparation of the thousands of meals down to a science when students put the meals together in assembly-line style.
“Feed the Need” has humble beginnings when some 25-to-30 years ago the culinary arts students prepared about 20 meals for a church. That number has grown into 3,700 requests for meals this year, Lesniak said.
The Brick Culinary Arts Program has always partnered with Food Service Director Tommy Yanisko at Community Hospital in Toms River, who holds a cash fundraiser every year that pays for the groceries, including green beans, yams, onions, butter, potatoes and much more, that is needed for the 3,000 meals.
“This year, with the added dinners that were requested, Tommy and his group of volunteers plated up 700 additional meals, at the hospital, to make up the 3,700,” Lesniak said.
Fulfill NJ provided 400 12 to 14-pound turkeys to the cause.
The meals are picked up and distributed by a number of non-profit organizations, large and small. This year, the bulk of the meals, some 2,000, went to Inspire New Jersey, a multi-need charity based in Manchester.
Jesus Is Lord Fellowship in Brick distributed 1,000 meals. Some are for members of the parish and others are distributed to the community, Lesniak said.
Child Protective Services of Bayville and Toms River distributed some 200 meals to families who are in their care, and Manchester Regional Day School got 66 dinners. Toms River Senior Center picked up 50 dinners, Preferred Behavior South took about 100 and Seaside Elementary School took 120 dinners, he said.
“We sent a couple of dinners over to Church of the Visitation for the priests that are going to be on duty this holiday weekend,” Lesniak said.
The Thanksgiving meal preparation was a full-circle moment for Chloe Torres, 18, a first-year culinary student from Jackson High School, who was the recipient of Feed the Need when she was younger.
“It’s heartwarming because my family history was bad. They helped me, and I’m just thankful for helping families and kids that need food.” she said. “It makes me happy to see other people happy.”
Friends Alicia Bird, 17, a junior from Lacey, and Serena Hawileh, 17, a senior from Brick, worked together on the sweet potato casserole and mashed potatoes.
“It was a good experience. It meant a lot to me because I’ve been in a similar situation where my family would go to food pantries when I was young, and it’s really nice knowing that I can help people now that I have more money in my family,” said Bird.
Hawileh agreed. “It was really nice because you knew you were helping a lot of people,” she said. “There was so much food – it was fun and a little stressful – every day we were pushing more and more and more.”
CJ Cooke, 16, a junior from Jackson High School, said the whole experience of preparing food for Feed the Need was fun.
“I enjoyed being with my classmates – it was kind of like a bonding experience,” he said. “The teachers put so much into it. I think everyone was so happy to be doing something that’s for such a good cause, to feed all these people who are struggling,” Cooke said.