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Feel Good Cooking

Branford High's Class Act students team-up with St. Mary’s LifeTeen participants to feed the men of the Columbus House Shelter.

senior Omar Hotak called his recent experience cooking for and serving the men of New Haven’s Columbus House Shelter, “life changing.”

Mixing Chef James Bannon’s pasta creation last week in the high school kitchen, he said, “It was a really good experience. It changed my views on life pretty much. You wouldn’t think there are that many homeless people in New Haven – it can happen to anyone."

This past November, Bannon who is a BHS Fine and Practical Arts teacher and who leads Class Act, the student-run culinary arts program, teamed up with to cook for the Columbus House. St. Mary’s often cooks for the Columbus House and the partnership between the school and the church was a good fit – St. Mary’s parishioners provided the food and Bannon provided the manpower and kitchen space to cook it.

Of his eager and ambitious students, Bannon commented, “All I have to do is say I need something and they are there.”

In November, the students prepared a dinner of chicken piccata, salad, dinner rolls and brownies for more than 100 men at Columbus House and then headed out to serve the meal.

Branford High School senior Paolo Sarno who participated in serving the dinner said the experience was moving for him. “You kind of put yourself in their shoes and it just shows you that anyone can go down that road.”

Last week, Bannon’s crew got together again, this time teaming up with some of St. Mary’s LifeTeen members to cook a delicious meal of bowtie pasta with sausage, zucchini and roasted butternut squash in a béchamel sauce. It took a few hours of preparation and 14 pounds of pasta but Bannon was confident that the Columbus House men would enjoy the meal as much he and his crew enjoyed making it.

Youth Minister Roger Erickson who run’s St. Mary’s LifeTeen Program met Bannon by chance while both were getting their car emissions done. He termed the chance meeting “god’s work,” said Erickson, adding that he was overjoyed with the opportunity to have his teens team-up with Bannon. “I am trying to find some way to get them to appreciate what they have everyday,” said Erickson.

Coming off the experience of in early January at St. Mary’s, Erickson said he was looking forward to having his teens serve at the New Haven shelter to further their experiences. “As much as I can talk about it with them as their youth minister,” he commented, “it’s not really easy for them to grasp onto until they can see it.”

Laughing and enjoying the art of cooking while knowing they were focusing on the task ahead to serve the men of the Columbus House, there was an overwhelming sense of goodness in the Class Act kitchen last week. “It’s good to give back,” said Bannon, adding, “and to see my students do it because it feels good, not because I told them to do it.”

James Bannon would like to secure a monthly date for his students to cook for the Columbus House Shelter. He will need food donation to feed 100-plus men to do so. If you would like to help, contact Bannon at jbannon@branford.k12.ct.us

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