December 21st, 2011

The Selfless Student Chef: Volunteerism at the CIA

Turkey Dinner
Turkey Dinner

Charity is on the rise. With the holidays fast approaching and the weather getting colder, there’s no shortage of people in need and organizations to assist them. Across the nation, shelters and kitchens are opening their doors to the less fortunate, the compulsion of good will towards mankind rising as the temperatures drop.

But for students at The Culinary Institute of America, compassion is a year-long task. “The Culinary Institute has a number of departments and programs that are set up to help those in need both on- and off-campus,” said Ronnie Genee, the Resident Director for the CIA. “Just before Thanksgiving, I was involved in the Westchester Homeless Dinner, an event where seven of our volunteers cooked for and served over five hundred and forty homeless in the New York City area. It’s just a great opportunity to open the student’s eyes to the reality of homelessness and to the community in which they live.”

As beneficial to the well-being of those less fortunate as such functions are, occasionally organizations and events are established to correct the cruel irony of the starving culinary student. “Over the week of Thanksgiving, the school set up a Thanksgiving Dinner for the students who were staying on campus for the break,” elaborated Mr. Genee. “There are people at this school willing to donate their time and effort to helping their own classmates, and their classmates appreciate that.”

Genee, in addition to playing a part in many of the volunteer organizations around the Institute, is the head of The Welcome Team – a group of volunteers who serve to instruct incoming students to school policy and help them move into their dorm rooms. “We get a lot of positive feedback from the students and parents alike. The people who make up the Welcome Team are working for nothing more than one free t-shirt and a few slices of pizza every block or so, which is amazing considering the impact they have on the community here at the CIA.”

And the community at the CIA is rife with groups who seek to help others. Chefs for Community Service is a student organization dedicated to serving the needs of others through the service of food. Members of the CCS volunteer at various missions and organizations across New York. Those interested in joining can attend one of the bi-weekly meetings held in the Wine Spectator Room in Roth Hall every other Thursday at 9 p.m.

Even outside the Culinary Institute, it’s not unusual for the worlds of charity and culinary to intersect. Plenty of people need food, and plenty of people in the food service industry are willing to give their time and resources for a greater cause. CulinaryCorps, Inc. is an American community service organization that encourages students and professionals of the food world to utilize their skills for the good of communities all across the nation. CulinaryCorps has dispatched culinarian volunteers to assist in a plethora of worthy causes, such as Habitat for Humanity during the reconstruction efforts following Hurricane Katrina.

There are chefs worldwide and students at The Culinary Institute of America who dedicate themselves to the assistance of others, but regardless of cause there is always a need for more helping hands. Ronnie Genee believes that he knows why. “At first, volunteering can feel selfish. You’re helping people out for the sake of making yourself feel good, and that makes some people uneasy. But the way I see it, there’s a mutual benefit in it. When you volunteer, you’re dedicating your time and effort to making someone’s day better, to improving their life in whatever way you can. Both parties are really getting a lot out of the deal.”

So this holiday season, try becoming a volunteer, whether it be to give your time to the betterment of mankind or to help a friend in need. The world could use a few more talented chefs with good intentions.