The Kitchens for Change program, which is a student-organization operating at the Turlock High and Pitman High campuses hoping to bring awareness and solutions to food insecurity in Turlock, has been awarded a $10,000 grant from the nationwide Lead4Change Student Leadership Program. The grant was formally awarded Monday morning to group members from both schools.
Kitchens for Change was officially launched last school year, although Turlock High alumnus Elias Rabine and friends originally came up with the concept two summers ago. As the organization founder, he spoke about the goal of the program and the significance of receiving the grant.
“This grant impacts my vision for Kitchens for Change as it is way to ensure longevity for the club,” Rabine said. “I think one of the goals we have always had to build this club in a way where it can be around for a long time. We have never wanted this club to be something that does good work for a year or two and then falls apart.”
Mohini Singh is a culinary instructor at Pitman High School and serves as the advisor for TUSD’s Kitchens for Change program. She explained that she became aware of the Lead4Change grant after attending one of the organization’s conferences several years back.
“I looked at them and said, ‘Hey, we're going to go after this grant,’ and they all looked at me like, ‘What? No, we're not.’ But I just let's just try it.”
According to Singh, the grant application took about four months to write up, with members meeting every week, brainstorming new projects, ideas and other ways to organize their proposal. She credits members Rabine, Audrey Smallwood, Keean Young, Griffen Sotomayor and Luke Thomas for writing and organizing the grant application, despite facing some hurdles.
“At times, they get discouraged and wondered if it was even worth it. I mean, it was true that we didn’t really have a huge chance at winning the grand prize. This is a national award with only a couple grand prizes handed out. Those thoughts were there, but at the least we thought that this would be good practice,” Singh said.
And while the students certainly gained plenty of experience, it turned out their work was worthy of the $10,000, which Singh says left many of them in shock.
Singh explained that money will be used for more projects and events, especially now that the organization has well over 100 members between Turlock High and Pitman High, well more than half compared to this time last year.
“We've had such a major increase in enrollment, it has become somewhat difficult to keep up and come up with creative projects and to be able to have each student have that authentic experience. That's where we're at right now. As an advisor, I’m trying to fine tune that,” Singh said.
Some recent activities that Kitchens for Change have done include cooking and serving meals alongside the Turlock Gospel Mission, cooking for Turlock’s refugee population, as well as being able to receive culinary tips from local restaurants and chefs.
Sotomayor, who served as the club’s historian before graduating this summer from Turlock High, believes that the possibilities are endless when it comes to giving back to the community now that the grant has been awarded.
“Receiving the grant allows for the club to be able to serve the community with less worry around creating funds for various products,” he said. “It is truly so great to be able to help the community, and the grant gives those in the club a way to continue big service projects that would otherwise not be realistic financially.”
Smallwood is one of those returning club members, now serving as the organization’s president. As a senior at Turlock High, she also believes that the grant can not only help the program during the 2022-23 academic year, but for years to come.
“I am so beyond grateful to Lead4Change for this $10,000 grant,” she said. “This grant will allow Kitchens for Change to continue growing and to continue coming together as students and tackling food insecurities in our community. We are so thankful for Lead4Change’s support of our mission and of our program. I look forward to seeing what difference we can make in Turlock with the help of this grant.”
Singh shared that the fact that there is such great enthusiasm to be involved in the program and to be involved in efforts to combat food insecurity is an amazing feeling for her and many of the founding members.
“It's very heartwarming because, honestly, Elias didn't expect this kind of response,” Singh said. “You get a group of kids in high school, and you bring them out, whether it's in a restaurant setting or in a meeting, and there's food and there's hot chocolate, and they're coming up with ideas on how to fundraise and go out and cook food and help the community. I think it sparks something in each one of their hearts.”
As for Rabine, he is hopeful that the national recognition from Lead4Change will serve as a driving force for change among institutions and school districts across the county.
“By receiving this grant, we now have the funding to host more projects, and do them on a larger scale,” he said. “It puts us on a national scale. People can find out about us anywhere in the nation, and hopefully get inspired to start their own chapter of Kitchens for Change in their area.”
For more information on Kitchens for Change, follow the club on Instagram at @Kitchens4Change or ‘Like’ their Facebook page at “Kitchens for Change.” Additional information on the nationwide Lead4Change can be found on their website at www.lead4change.org.