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MJHS Culinary Arts Students Cook Meals for Family Promise of Blount County

Thank you Daily Times and Melanie Tucker for sharing this story!

Thank you Family Promise National for sharing this story!


The Comforts of Home

by Melanie Tucker

As the culinary arts teacher at Maryville Junior High School, Brittany Strom said she wanted her students to do more than learn to feed themselves.

While she admits that skill will serve each one of them well, she knew they were capable of more.

So when Lorrie Crockett of Family Promise of Blount County came up with an idea for a community partnership, Strom jumped at the chance. Family Promise needed some groups to step up and help provide evening meals to the families in its emergency shelter program.

“You can’t overestimate the power of a home-cooked meal,” Strom said. “Comfort takes away stress.”

Before the pandemic, Family Promise of Blount County relied on the commitment and kindness of its host churches to provide a safe place to stay for this community’s homeless families.

That place to stay included a hot evening meal for all who were enrolled in the emergency shelter program. The families would stay a week at each host church that saw to their immediate needs. They would then move on to the next host church. Congregations made sure dinner was on the table at the end of every weekday.

COVID changed all that, as it was no longer safe to bring people together in a central location. Family Promise then had to re-invent the program and find another way to offer shelter and meals to Blount’s most vulnerable population.

Currently, there are eight adults and 13 children in the shelter program along with two adults and three children in transitional housing. There are 10 Blount County families on the waiting list, Lamar said.

The families in the shelter program are now housed in apartments that are generally used for Family Promise’s Transitional Housing Program.

On Monday, Caroline Lamar, executive director for Family Promise and her staff picked up hot meals that Strom’s classes had created that day. There was meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans and for dessert, coconut cream pie.

Family Promise then hand-delivered the meals to its families.

“The pandemic has changed the way we do operations,” Lamar said, “especially being without the congregations right now. The need is still there.”

Strom is in her fourth year of teaching culinary arts at MJHS. The program started in 2014 and was previously under Family and Consumer Science. The 190 or so students are ninth graders. Not all of them will choose this as a career, she said.

“A majority of our students will probably not go on to be chefs,” this teacher said. “I think you will have a few, more than you might think. But no matter what you do in life, you will need culinary arts. We all eat. We have to provide food for ourselves and our families.”

This opportunity presented itself at the right time, Strom said. She and one of the principals at the school had recently had a conversation about where this program wants to be.

“I said I want service to be at the heart of whatever we do,” she explained. “Because we have an opportunity to provide and give back to the community. We don’t need to just cook something for ourselves to enjoy.”

The hosting-churches component of this FP operation shut down in March 2020 and has yet to be reinstated. There were 13 churches that were part of the pre-pandemic rotation schedule, Lamar said. Plans are to return when it’s safe to do so.

The typical stay for a family in shelter is 90 days, but some families meet their goals more quickly and are ready for permanent housing through Family Promise’s Transitional Housing Program, she added.

Despite the churches not hosting families at present, several congregations have come forward to provide gift cards that Family Promise can use to buy food for its families. Some have been preparing meals and delivering, Lamar said.

“We just needed extra help to get these meals out,” she said.

This whole process with MJHS has also included some class time for these culinary arts students to learn about who Family Promise is and what they do. Crockett came and spoke to them in advance of the ninth-graders fixing the meals. They were also cooking for FP on Wednesday and Friday of this week.

Strom said the partnership will likely continue with more students.

“I think it’s important for them to know there are bigger things than themselves,” she said of her students. “That they can work toward something that is bigger than themselves.”