First it was Hurricane Sandy, and now it's Thanksgiving. No matter what happens, if they can fill a pot or light an oven, students of the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical School keep cooking to keep the hungry and helpless fed, no matter what the event.
Culinary students and staff at Middlesex County Vo-Tech at Perth Amboy - one of the school's five locations, including East Brunswick, Edison, Piscataway, and Woodbridge - teamed with volunteer chefs to prepare more than 3,300 meals for displaced victims of Superstorm Sandy.
Culinary arts teacher Stephen Moir and the Jersey Shore Chefs Association coordinated the effort, which provided hot meals to shelters and nonprofit organizations in Atlantic Highlands, Union Beach and Red Bank in New Jersey and Far Rockaway in New York.
“They were looking for facilities to cook and we were a natural fit,” said Moir, a former executive chef at a restaurant in Forked River who has been teaching at Perth Amboy Tech for eight years. “We had the kids who can cook and the kitchens to do it.”
Students stayed as late as 8:30 pm during the week – “without one complaint,” according to Moir - to prepare and cook meals with donated food that came from as far away as Atlanta and Chicago.
The donations, including meat and seafood, were channeled through the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, located in Hillside.
Eight students gave up their time to produce 600 meals for storm victims in Union Beach and Far Rockaway, said school officials. They were joined by other school staffers, family members and volunteer chefs.
The menu included roast chicken, potatoes, salad, mixed vegetables and cupcakes.
Cutting potatoes were seniors Jacob Vargas and Shelby Haggerty, both of Woodbridge, who said they were three-year veterans of such prep work in their classes.
“If anything happened to my home, I would hope people would come and help me,” Jacob said.
“I know a lot of people need the food right now,” Shelby added. “I feel bad that they don’t have food.”
Among the chefs participating during the week were Paul Kapner of the Community FoodBank, Maurice Maglione of Abigail Kirsch Caterers in New York, Thomas Andresakes of Nestle Foodservice, Michael Giletto of Bayonne Country Club and Zach Baggot, a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Pertn Amboy Tech staff members included librarian Jean Curtin and guidance counselor Guy Johnson, who brought his wife, Myrian.
“He never peeled a potato before in his life,” Mrs. Johnson said of her husband.
At the end of the day, Moir got a kick out of his students.
“They’re showing the adults how to clean up,” he said.
The hurricane might've been over, but on Monday, the students switched to another charitable endeavor: preparing Thanksgiving meals for Perth Amboy senior citizens, which is a tradition at the school.