Child cooking

Sierra Vista Corps offers free culinary class for kids

Sierra Vista Corps offers free culinary class for kids 

By Lanny A. Kope, Advisory Board Member –

As a military family in their 5th Duty Station, the Himes family had moved frequently. But unlike anywhere else they’d lived, there weren’t a lot of options for kids’ activities in Sierra Vista, Arizona, mom Meghan Himes said. 

When she heard about The Salvation Army Sierra Vista Corps’ Culinary Arts Program—and that it was free to participants—she was interested, but cautious. 

“At first, we weren’t sure we were going to send our kids in, just because we’re overprotective,” Himes said. “But I came and stayed actually for the first couple of classes when it was just my daughter. And I watched how they did their security and no one was allowed to go past a certain point, and they always knew where every kid was. So after about two or three times of me staying, I said, ‘It’s fine, I’ll leave them here, because they clearly have an idea of what they’re doing.’”

Now, Himes spreads the word about the program, and several others have signed up. In the fall 2019 quarter, 96 children, ages 7-13, were enrolled in the program, which runs Tuesdays and Thursdays for eight weeks teaching students basic kitchen cooking techniques, food safety and personal hygiene. Plans are currently underway to extend it through non-school months. 

For the kids it’s fun and educational. When Himes’ daughter, Alexis, came home it was clear “just how much fun they had,” Himes said.

“I think the first class they cut fruit and made a fruit salad-type thing, and she got to actually cut the fruit herself, which I don’t let her typically do at home, which it was a plastic knife. But she was very excited that she was grown up and cutting herself fruit.”

Cutting fruit might seem like a small step, but it fits into the vision Corps Officer Captain Carlos Souza had for the program. He was only in the community for a short period of time when he recognized the need to help Sierra Vista’s children develop healthy, nutritional meal habits.

Aided with a start-up $55,000 grant from the Legacy Foundation of Southeast Arizona (LFSA), he did something about it: He started an after-school culinary arts program.

“The Culinary Arts Program that the Sierra Vista Corps has put together has been met with a great reception by the community,” said Advisory Board President Howard Merkwan. “The volunteers for this program have embraced the opportunity to help teach and perfect the culinary skills of those who attend. I am very excited about the future of this program and how it will evolve over time.”

Volunteers help teach classes, including Eva McElroy, a retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel and member of the Sierra Vista Corps Advisory Board, and professional chef Lora Miller from Cochise Community College’s culinary arts program. Miller also directs menu choices, utensils and equipment selection, and provides teaching support to the other volunteers.  

“We will be entering our third quarter of the program, and it is already a huge success, according to the kids and their parents,” Souza said. “We talk about the value and differences of food, pointing out to them the importance of making better choices from an early age to avoid health complications in the future.” 

While the culinary program boasts a fun environment, one of its basic goals is to help participants learn how to prepare nourishing food to help them succeed physically, socially, academically and emotionally.

A recent batch of zucchini muffins garnered responses like, “I’ve never had zucchini muffins, and I loved it.”

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