Coronavirus: 4 students feeding hundreds of Dayton’s kids every day

A Dayton culinary program is shining extra bright amid the COVID-19 pandemic as its service is needed now more than ever.

Housed inside Grace United Methodist Church on Salem Avenue, Dayton Cooks! is a 10-week culinary arts training program that also provides food for children in after school programs in the urban Dayton area.

Pastor Sherry Gale of Grace United and advisory board member for Dayton Cooks!, said this particular four-person class of Dayton Cooks! students have come to the kitchen every day since the crisis began to prepare meals for Dayton children, even with additional obstacles the virus has presented.

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“This class is just amazing,” Gale said. “This last 10-week class started in March when this all started. They have been there every day. They feel a real sense of responsibility to the community and a sense of opportunity to be a part of the solution. So they are absolutely committed.”

Year round, the program will typically cook enough food to provide about 500 meals, served buffet style, delivered to a few schools and after-school centers. Since the start of the pandemic, the program has adapted to continue preparing between 300 and 350 meals a day, individually packed to comply with state guidelines.

“Obviously lots of people are out of work and children in particular in Dayton and in Dayton Public (Schools) are accustomed to at least two meals a day being provided by the schools— breakfast and lunch,” Gale said. “We are trying to fill in that gap.”

The program works to distributed the food in coordination with local non-profits such as the Wesley Community Center, Boys & Girls Club, East End Community Center and Omega Community Development Corporation. It also is supported through the Ohio Department of Education’s Children Family Feeding Program.

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“On a call that I made to one of our families, I was overwhelmed with emotion by their response to me simply checking in,” said Natasha Harrell, Boys and Girls Club member who works with Dayton Cooks! students. “The grandfather on the phone expressed to me, ‘I am so glad that you all called. I just ran out of food. I didn’t know what I was going to do, I am so blessed that you called.’”

During the pandemic, Dayton Cooks! has received supplemental funding from the Dayton Foundation COVID-19 Funds which has allowed the program to begin providing some senior meals in addition to the meals for children.

Gale said many of the Dayton Cooks! students will come from a background where they once also worried where their next meal was going to come from.

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“It’s just beautiful to see,” Gale said. “They take such pride in being able to serve others now through this program. When they actually get to go and deliver these meals and see the children excited about getting food, it means a lot to them.”

The last week of April, the program was able to put together some family meals for families of five to send home with children, thanks to the additional funding from the Dayton Foundation.

“That was a benefit we had not even thought about in the program,” Gale said. “We wanted to help people get skills so they can always be employed and find jobs in restaurants and schools … But it’s connecting people in so many different ways and that’s what makes a difference when people serve one another.”

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