SIDNEY — A new program aimed to connect with and mentor young people through cooking has been launched by the Sidney Police Department.
Community Resource Officer Bryce Stewart created “Cookin with Cops” for Sidney middle school- and high school-aged children in January. Stewart and school resources officers or other adult volunteers teach young people how to cook a new dish, while attempting to bond, each Thursday afternoon in the kitchen of Connection Point Church on Campbell Road. It is not religious-related; the church offers a large area to cook/dine outside of school.
“My huge passion is (working) with kids who maybe don’t have the best home life. And in today’s society, we have kind of lost that sitting down together and discussing how your day is going and what is going on,” Stewart said of the program’s mission.
After a few set backs, the program’s first cooking session was held on March 4. The spring, 10-week program is set to run through the end of the school year.
Cookin with Cops is possible through grant funds from the Sidney-Shelby County Chamber of Commerce and Walmart. Stewart hopes to secure additional grant funds to also have a summer program.
The budget for each meal, $100, which will feed up to 20 extra people, he said. Stewart’s goal is to have five students, but no more than 10 because of COVID precautions, present each Thursday.
When presenting Cookin with Cops to the Sidney City Council in January, Stewart said it combines his passion of helping children and cooking. Area young people will be able learn basic cooking skills and hopefully improve their self-esteem, and other life skills.
After their meal is “made with love,” as Stewart puts it, the adults and participating students then sit down together to enjoy the fruits of their labor in a dining room just off the church’s kitchen. For each meal, they typically prepare a salad, entree and a dessert, even if it’s just store bought ice cream. The group prepares more than enough food so everyone can have seconds and the young chefs can take some home to share with their families. If any food is left after to-go boxes are packed, Stewart takes the remaining food back to the police department for the officers on duty.
“This (program) came about when I was looking at the pantry at the house and what to eat. I’m looking and looking, and I see Ramen noodles, and I know I have steak and leftovers in the fridge, and some vegetables. I was cooking with my oldest daughter, Ava, and I said, ‘I think I’m going to make an Asian dish out of this.’ When it was done, we were sitting down at the kitchen table and my daughter said to me, ‘You have a gift, Dad. How did you see this meal just looking at (was available)? You can do something with this.’ And then it just kind of hit me,” Stewart said, as he had been contemplating what type of mentoring program he should create.
When asked what is his favorite dish, Stewart said the first thing he taught the teens to make was his grandmother’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes. When the Sidney Daily News dropped by on April 1, they were making his grandmother’s coleslaw and also a second slightly modified coleslaw, loaded mac and cheese, and had store-bought peach cobbler and ice cream for dessert.
“It’s pretty fun. It’s therapeutic, especially cutting stuff. I really like cutting up stuff,” said Elijah Wade, 16, of chopping cabbage for the coleslaw.
Wade, and two of his brothers, Ean, 14, and Hunter, 12, all sons of Timothy and Trinity Wade, joked around with each other while helping cook and set the table Thursday.
Ean admitted with a chuckle when asked for his thoughts, “I do love myself some mac and cheese, and I do take an interest in eating.”
Josh Scott, 14, the son of Sylvia Watson and Josh Scott, said he hasn’t cooked much but “in the past has had an interest in cooking” as he was monitoring the boiling pasta for the mac and cheese.
Jake Cromes, 16, the son of Jennifer Kelly, also said it was his first time in the kitchen. He was learning to use a food processor to further chop the cabbage Elijah had first cut up.
“I am humbled by these kids,” Stewart said. “I tell them just like I tell my three kids and what my grandma used to tell me, to make it with a splash of this, a dash of that and to make it with love.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.