Chef Albert Ponzo is putting his cooking skills to good use by ensuring people in Prince Edward County have access to nutritional food during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chef Ponzo, who teaches in Loyalist College’s Culinary Skills and Culinary Management programs, has teamed up with Food to Share, a Prince Edward County-based organization that collects locally grown produce. With the help of community volunteers like Chef Ponzo, Food to Share is able to distribute healthy meals to local food banks and families in need.
It is estimated that more than 10 percent of households in Ontario struggle with securing food. The COVID-19 pandemic has created even more financial strain and insecurity for many provincial residents.
Ponzo learned about Food to Share through the County Food Hub, a project that established a commercial kitchen within Sophiasburgh Central School in Prince Edward County.
“The community wanted to save their school from closure – that’s how the County Food Hub was born,” said Ponzo, who sits on the Hub’s Board of Governors. “It’s a fully equipped kitchen that can be rented and used by chefs and caterers. It provides a revenue stream that allows the school to remain open.”
Food to Share works out of the Hub’s kitchen, where Ponzo experienced first-hand how the organization was fighting food insecurity locally. “I knew that they were addressing a really important need,” said Ponzo. “When the pandemic started, many of their volunteers had to stop participating because they are older and more vulnerable. I knew one thing I had access to was a pool of willing helpers, so I decided to get more involved. It wasn’t hard to find volunteers from Loyalist College.”
Two of those volunteers are Loyalist Culinary Management students Courtney Gaudet and Noah Rudderham.
“It sounded like a fun opportunity, and a great way to help others,” said Gaudet.
“When I received an email asking for volunteers, I didn’t hesitate,” said Rudderham. “I knew I wanted to get out there and get involved.”
Ponzo and his students are working with local Chef David Evans to make sure that the meals they prepare are packed with nutrition. “Food to Share tries to provide people with food that is wholesome, healthy and balanced,” said Ponzo. “Last week, the team made pork casserole. This week we’re preparing Bolognese.”
Under normal circumstances, kitchens are active environments where chefs and cooks work closely. That’s not the case for Chef Ponzo and team.
“We each work at our own station, practicing physical distancing while we cook,” said Rudderham. “Even though we’re six feet apart, we still get to talk and work together. It’s very different from what you’d normally experience in a kitchen. I’m just happy that we’re able to contribute in this way. Food brings people together and by providing hearty meals to those who need it most, we’re contributing to the health and wellness of our community.”