Lunch time on a recent Thursday marked the second successful Soupapalooza at Francine Delany New School for Children in West Asheville. A fundraiser for the school’s PTSO, Soupapalooza is a hands-on cooking — and eating — event created and organized by Abby Walker, the lead teacher in charge of the school’s weekly FEAST classes.
FEAST (which stands for Fresh, Easy, Affordable, Sustainable, Tasty) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting healthy eating choices through hands-on gardening and cooking education. For a $3 donation, students get a bowlful of soup, a thick slice of bread donated by the West End Bakery, and the satisfaction of knowing everyone helped create the meal. Last year’s inaugural Soupapalooza was so popular among the students and staff that they decided to do it again this year.
“There is no cafeteria at Francine Delaney New School for Children, and everyday they order food from somewhere in town for the children that want to buy lunch. We wanted to provide a healthy option while also raising money to continue programming,” says Nan Kramer, the program coordinator for FEAST Asheville.
Who made the soup? “We made it!” says Heather Reddy, seated at a table she shares with her best friends, all in the second grade. “We chopped up lots of carrots and potatoes,” volunteers Maya Nicholas, while the rest of the girls at the table begin to call out the names of all the vegetables they used in the soup. A typical FEAST class is an hour long for each grade, kindergarten through eighth, on Wednesdays and Thursdays. During the classes, they learn not only about healthy food and nutrition but also about manners for the kitchen and the table and how important it is to clean up after yourself when you’re finished.
All of the produce used in the weekly FEAST classes is donated by local produce delivery company Mother Earth Produce. “I find out Monday what’s available for this week and then make a lesson plan built around that,” says Walker as she ladles soup into a hodgepodge of cups, mugs and bowls brought from home by kids participating in the fundraiser.
“The recipe we used for this year’s soup is based entirely on what was available for several weeks leading up to the event. We talk about how best to substitute ingredients we don’t have for things we do have and did a lot of chopping, measuring and freezing,” she continues. “Just because you don’t have everything exactly like it lists on the recipe doesn’t mean you can’t make it.” Learning that kind of flexibility leads to more confidence in the kitchen for young cooks and is one of FEAST’s core values.
In Walker’s classes, it’s also an opportunity to talk about other aspects of making do. “We talk about what a nonprofit organization is, why we have fundraisers, how important it is to help within your community and give back to it when you can,” she says. The FEAST classes often help make food for other school fundraising events as well, such as the annual Pancake Breakfast.
Sometimes making soup can even be exciting. Eighth grader Hannah Amos explains how the fire alarm was accidentally triggered by a volunteer helping to prepare a portion of the project with students a few days earlier in the school’s Dogwood building. “We were sautéing the onion and garlic and seasonings in the oil, and it was right under the smoke detector. Nothing was on fire, it was just hot and a little smoky so the alarm went off really loud,” Hannah says. “The fire department and an ambulance were here right away, and there were firemen everywhere. It was kind of fun.”
At the end of the day, 120 out of 170 kids at FDNSC chose the soup of the day for lunch and raised $400 for their PTSO and continuing FEAST classes.