Sioux Falls high school students cook for food-insecure families

Families facing food insecurity in the Sioux Falls area are getting a little help from students in Suzy Ries’ family and consumer science classes at Jefferson High School.

More than 20 students in Ries’ foods class spent a period before lunch cooking spicy goulash for 21 families in the area. Two other class periods also help with this effort, Ries said.

Each Thursday, the students prepare weekly crockpot meals for the families, who stay anonymous to them. Students know the size and food preferences/allergens of the families, though, and prepare the meals accordingly.

All 21 families were given crockpots at the start of the school year to prepare meals in. Funding for the crockpots was provided through a “Proud Grant” from the Sioux Falls Education Foundation, and help from the 211 Helpline Center and DoorDash delivers the meals to families.

“I’ve had this idea for 10 years,” Ries said. “This project is part of giving back. Students need an opportunity to give back” and they embrace it, she added.

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This is a good opportunity for Ries’ students because some of them just don’t know where or how to give back to their community, she said.

Students vote as a class on what meal to prepare each week. This week was spicy goulash; other meals have included macaroni and cheese, street tacos, soup and chili, for example.

Clusters of students then gather the supplies and ingredients needed for their recipes, bring them to one of six kitchen stations in Ries’ classroom and get to work chopping onions, measuring spices or browning ground beef.

Ries has taught them valuable cooking and life skills, such as how to avoid tearing up while chopping an onion, and cooking for themselves.

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Cooking for oneself will be valuable to students like senior Mercedes Van Meekeren when they graduate high school. Van Meekeren said she grew up with cooking in her household, but this class helps her understand how her family cooks “more in-depth.”

“We’re learning while knowing we’re helping other people,” she added.

Once they’re done cooking and preparing the meal to be delivered, they package the meal together and include a personal note to the family. This week, the note was orange and wished families a ‘Happy Halloween’ in Ries’ favorite writing utensil, black Sharpie.

Meals are delivered to each family on Fridays after school by DoorDash drivers. The families get 30 meals throughout the school year.

Ries’ students thank her for her class, her cooking skills and her patience with the students.

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“Mrs. Ries finds a way,” Fatuma Ibrahim, a junior in the class, said of her teacher’s culinary know-how.

Ibrahim added that she enjoys getting feedback from the families on how the food was, working together with her classmates and knowing that the families enjoyed their warm, homemade meals.

“I’d recommend the class; it’s a fun environment,” freshman Elijah Klein said. “It helps me feel accomplished and uplifts us.”