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Feeding the passion of community involvement

Written by Mike Siroky. Posted in Uncategorized

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Published on March 01, 2011 with No Comments

by Mike Siroky and Carl Kurek

This past week, students from Spanish classes at Valparaiso High School and Ben Franklin Middle School received a cooking lesson from Carlos Rivero, owner of Don Quijote Restaurant and Imports. But the main course Rivero was serving to the students was the importance of helping those who are less fortunate.

The students traveled to Don Quijote Feb. 23 and with Rivero as their instructor, they prepared food that would be finished the following day and delivered to St. Teresa of Avila’s Café Manna, a soup kitchen in Valparaiso that offers a free meal every Thursday to anyone who comes through their door.

There were so many students who volunteered that they had to go into the restaurant’s kitchen in shifts because there were not enough work stations available for all of the volunteers.

But Rivero made it work, flying around the room with his usual effervescent projections, offering  advice, directions and assigning tasks; pulling icy drinks for the children. Surprisingly, even the tearful assignment of cutting onions did not dissuade these young chefs.

“It is very rewarding for me in the way they behave and the effort they put into it,” Rivero said. “Seeing what I saw in them, it was something they enjoyed.”

While this is the first time the students have worked with Rivero to provide food for Café Manna, many of them have been a part of similar efforts in the past.

“These have been great volunteers in the community for many years,” Chris Waters, the Spanish teacher from Valparaiso High School, said. “Once they start, it becomes a habit.”

Waters was referring in particular to Maya Major, Brandon Karcher and Cecilia Thate, three high school students who have been a part of efforts such as this since they were in sixth grade.

“There is a huge need in our community and we wanted to do something about it, and this was a perfect opportunity,” Major said.

Thate said one of the things that motivates her to be a part of such efforts is the feeling that comes with helping those who need it.

“I love the feeling I get from it!” she said.

Karcher also agreed about “that feeling.”

“It’s just that good feeling,” he said. “It can be so easy to go on with everything and forget that there are people who need things like this.”

Elena Jambrina, assistant chef and business manager at Don Quijote, said it is great to see young students who care about more than just music, video games and sports.

“It makes your heart warm that these kids have a soft spot for helping others,” she said. I think it’s great. They put on an apron, rolled up their sleeves and got involved.”

The middle school students have not been a part of as many such events as their high school counterparts, but they all agreed it is something they will continue to do.

“Helping people makes you feel good inside because you know you did something for someone else,” said middle school student Megan Lawrence.

Sylvia Reyna-Borowiak, the Spanish teacher from Ben Franklin Middle School saw the cooking project as part of the bigger picture of instilling life skills in her students.

“We try to teach them the culture of the food, but ultimately, this is to teach them to be good citizens,” Reyna-Borowial said.

As the chicken primavera, the rice with vegetables, the garlic mushrooms, the pasta salad, mashed potatoes, potato salad and a green salad all came together, it was apparent the main ingredient was fun and dedication to the community.

“It opens their eyes; we are a fairly diverse community and are still becoming more diverse,” Waters said.

Rivero has become a backbone of many Valparaiso-based efforts involving food designed to help the homeless and those who are less fortunate.

“I have never seen him turn down any request from anybody,” she said. “He is so open to helping and teaching. He is a real catalyst.”

The students, she said, reflect the dedication he embodies.

“One thing I feel very strongly about is that they have a well-rounded life,” Waters said.

“You can get good grades, but you must also live. Carlos can show us that. For me, it is really important to give the kids the experience of giving to their community.”

Giving the students that experience was also Rivero’s main objective.

“This is a chance for the students as well as myself to see that there are bad things in the world, but there are good things too,” Rivero said. “They are an inspiration to me and I look forward to doing this with them many times in the future.

While Rivero enjoyed his opportunity with the students, he was a little upset that he did not get to teach them more about cooking. He promised, however, that they would find an occasion to come together again in the future so he could do just that.

Café Manna is located at 1511 Laporte Ave. in Valparaiso. Every Thursday evening with the help of many volunteers, a hot nourishing meal is served to as many as 250-275 guests. Meals can be enjoyed at Café Manna or delivered to those who do not have transportation available.

Don Quijote and blackbird café, also of Valparaiso, supported the event involving the Valparaiso students, but many local restaurants and businesses contribute to the efforts of Café Manna every week.

For more information about Café Manna at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic in Valparaiso, call 219-464-4042, or visit www.saintt.com. For more information about Don Quijote Restaurant in downtown Valparaiso, call 219-462-7976, or visit www.donquijoterestaurantandimports.com.

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About Mike Siroky

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All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the above excellent column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Mike Siroky is a writer and editor. He is a native of Northwest Indiana. He has worked in media from coast to coast. To contact Mike, email mikel@the chronicleNWI.com

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