43 Division protects and serves dinner for youth at risk

Toronto Police have decided to add a new duty to their long list: cooking. The 43rd Division in Scarborough has brought the kitchen to the classroom with the Eastside Cooking Corner, which gives Scarborough students at risk an opportunity to connect with their community.
Meeting every Tuesday night at Maplewood High School for three hours, students learn various recipes for dishes such as pizza, apple pie, chicken, lasagna, pasta, cake, biscuits and cookies. After every class they eat dinner together and chat.

Students get to take home whatever they cooked to share with their families.

“I really like coming here, being with the people and getting to learn new things,” Grade 9 student Penny Siskopoulos. “It gives me something else to do apart from school and I get some time off from stress.”

Constables Sharon Myers and Amy Handsor helped organize the program, sharing recipes with students while teaching them how to cook and other life skills as well.

“We thought a culinary program would be nice as a lot of programs that are offered for at-risk youth are sports-related. But, this was something different and something that they could use,” Myers said.

Both officers said they believe that establishing a positive relationship between students, teachers and police will strengthen the community.

Culinary teachers Andy Stevenson and Darren Beer from Maplewood High School helped officers run the program. The 14 participants, ranging from ages 14 to 17, were recommended by school staff and chosen by the officers.

“Our program promotes a sense of community where barriers regarding authoritative figures such as the police and teachers can be broken down,” Stevenson said. “We can all have a meal together, something that a lot of kids don’t do in their home lives.”

Stevenson said cities need to create programs such this one to provide students with after school activities.

Students also learned about kitchen safety, nutrition, food services and etiquette.

The 10-week program, which began on Jan. 13, wraps up March 10 when they will receive a certificate at a graduation dinner.

“This program provides students with a safe place to go, a socializing experience, and positive role models,” Myers added. “It’s been a great success.”

Funding for Eastside Cooking Corner was given this year by ProAction Cops and Kids, which funds programs that let officers interact with at-risk kids.

Police are hoping for funding next year to continue the program.

If they get it, officers will be back serving up their help for youth at the Eastside Cooking Corner.