The Cycle of Giving

The Cycle Of Giving

Wed 09 Apr 2014

Story by Sonia Kohlbacher

Slumped on an overpass linking the Perth Train Station and the city’s arts centre are about half a dozen homeless people. One bares a sign cut from cardboard requesting employment. Another sits next to an upturned hat on the pavement, a few coins tossed in after a second’s thought from a passerby. On the other side of town planning is underway to feed Perth’s homeless population which is nearing 10,000 people.

The 5000 Meals project includes a cross section of the wider community - uniting youth, school teachers and chefs to tackle issues including surplus food going to waste and hunger faced by people in need.

A problem. And a solution.

The 5000 Meals project was created in November 2012 by a handful of home economics teachers who double as chefs. The project connects school students with chefs who together cook nutritious meals from surplus and donated food for Perth’s homeless. Last year, 450 students from 14 metropolitan and regional schools cooked 6701 meals for the homeless.

In WA each year between 20- 40 per cent of fresh produce is rejected before it even hits supermarket shelves, based on retailer and consumer standards. Food wastage makes up nearly 40% of household bins, equating to one in every five bags of grocery shopping being thrown away. “We are in a first world country and we need to do things differently to inspire and engage our youth,” 5000 Meals founder Cath MacDougall said. “This is an opportunity to connect our youth, with a common goal which is to create healthy meals for our community members in need.
“It promotes mentoring, an exchange of skills and knowledge that ultimately changes people’s lives.”

During production students, chefs and teachers work together to produce hundreds of meals per school, putting theoretical training into practice.

“The benefits to everyone involved are enormous,” Jennifer McGillivray Home Economics Association of WA president said.

In 2013 Foodbank WA donated tonnes of fruit, vegetables and meat that was cooked, labelled and packaged by students during class time.

“These meals are (then) distributed to welfare agencies – there’s a number of agencies that actually feed people in the streets,” Hamish Dobie, Foodbank WA operations manager said.

More than 30 of the State’s most decorated chefs and 54 Crown Perth apprentice chefs assisted each school. Students receive on-the-spot training to develop skills which could help them secure careers in hospitality, while learning the importance of giving back to their community.

“The students in the schools are really benefiting from the relationships that they’re building with apprentices,” Ms McGillivray said.

“All of the chefs have been able to reassure me that my kid’s skill level is getting to industry standard,” Governor Stirling Senior High School teacher Jenny Laker said.
“It’s given me products that I wouldn’t normally cook with, quantities I normally wouldn’t cook with and recipes that I wouldn’t really put the students to do.”

Since it inaugural year last year, support for the project is growing. “The people behind this are inspiring people to work with and most of the time they do it on the smell of an oily rag,” WA Food Ambassador and chef Don Hancey said.
“They do a lot of those hours for free and for all of us involved in this particular project we have given our time and our experience but you work with like-minded souls.”

This year 700 students from 20 schools will produce 10,000 meals, value-adding to tonnes of surplus food.

“(Last year) was a huge undertaking for everybody involved but a lot of experience for the students to be able to do something for other people,” Eastern Hills Senior High School teacher Micael Corless said.

“It was hard work but it was worth it in the end,” said a student from Eastern Hills Senior High School.

This year’s 5000 Meals project will be launched in Perth on March 10.
More information is available here.

About the author: Sonia Kohlbacher is a Western Australian journalist who donates her time to assisting the development of the 5000 Meals project.

Images: Top right: Group photo is the teachers who took part in the project last year; bottom right:Jamie’s Fifteen graduate Lloyd Hayes with two girls included in the project; bottom left: Western Australian Food Ambassador and celebrity chef Don Hancey with two stallholders from last year's youth expo; top left: an apprentice cooking with the students.


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