CHICOPEE — On March 28, Chicopee Public Schools families will gather at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts to cook a family recipe and have it sampled and judged for possible inclusion in the schools’ lunches.

“We’ve received 12 submissions, each showcasing unique culinary traditions,” said Kristen Coelho, family and community engagement facilitator for Chicopee Public Schools. “Our final selection celebrates the rich diversity of flavors and cultures within our community.”

For those involved, the event offers the chance to bring families and students together which has lasting benefits for the students, the schools and the city.

“Events like the Chicopee Family Cook-Off create a sense of connection and belonging. They help build relationships and trust between the school and the community,” said Coelho. “When families feel connected to the community, they are more likely to be engaged and involved in their children’s education. This community spirit can translate into increased attendance, participation in extracurricular activities, and overall engagement in school life.”

Melanie Wilk, the director of food services for Chicopee Public Schools has had the idea for such an event for several years now.

“We are always looking to expand the diversity of our school lunch menu and to try new items,” explained Wilk. “We also want to make sure that the meals we serve are something the students will eat and like, and what better way to do that than to get some recipes straight from the source?”

The free event will begin with the families preparing their recipes in the food bank’s commercial kitchen, with the help and guidance of Chef Sam Icklan from Project Bread.

“The kitchen also has an overhead camera that projects to screens in the community room so everyone will be able to see all the action as they cook,” said Wilk.

After the foods have been prepared, community members will have the opportunity to sample the dishes.

“Finally, after the attendees have been able to sample the recipes, we will have a panel of judges, including our Superintendent Dr. Marcus Ware, and a few other surprise guests, who will determine the overall winner,” explained Wilk.

The winning dish will be added to the schools’ repertoire of lunch dishes, and all families who participate will receive a swag bag with Chicopee FRESH merchandise. But the event means so much more than swag and yummy food.

“The cook-off will provide families with an opportunity to connect with each other and enjoy the company of their community. Family events like this create lasting memories for students and families,” noted Coelho. “The Chicopee Family and Community Engagement Team is thrilled to partner with Chicopee Fresh and The Food Bank of Western Mass. to host this exciting family event in our community.”

The cook-off will take place on Thursday, March 28, from 3:30 to 6 p.m. at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, 25 Carew St. in Chicopee.

Tina Lesniak
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